Meningitis Outbreak at Princeton: Using A Vaccine Yet to be Approved in the U.S.

xl_5704_princeton-campus-finedininglovers-01Yesterday, the Princeton board of trustees approved administering a vaccine yet to be approved in the U.S. 7 people have been infected, with 7,900 students still at a possible risk. The disease? Meningitis. Or, more specifically, serogroup B Meningitis, a strain of the disease that is far less common in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world. Because of how uncommon it is in the U.S., the vaccine has yet to be used here – or approved by the FDA. However, the vaccine in question, Bexsoro from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, has been used in Europe and Australia.

Princeton reported another student was infected with the bacterial form of the potentially deadly disease last week. This is the seventh case since the first student was infected back in March. The most recent student to be infected is currently hospitalized. Of the other six persons infected, 5 were students, who have since recovered, and one guest, who is receiving treatment at an outside hospital. With the most recent case, Princeton is preparing a major step to stop the disease from spreading. Last week the CDC, following protocol, requested to import the vaccine for use at the New Jersey Ivy League. According to a report in Bloomberg, this outbreak represents the first opportunity the CDC has had to test the vaccine. While the FDA did approve importing the vaccine, it has not had the time to approve the vaccine itself for use in America. This could represent a potential risk.

The Princeton University Board of Trustees met over the weekend to evaluate whether or not to distribute the vaccine. According to the NY Times, any student receiving the vaccine would do so voluntary. There have already been significant efforts at Princeton to stop the spread of meningitis. The disease is spread through the saliva or extensive contact. All over the campus, there are posted reminders to not share drinks as part of an overall “keep healthy and carry on” campaign. Another student coming down with the disease, however, indicates the campaign is not working. The campus will begin administering the vaccine early next month.

According to the National Meningitis Association, an average of 1,500 Americans were infected with the disease each year from 1998 to 2007, with a range of 900 to 3,000 cases. Of those, 11% of cases were fatal. Because of the way the disease spreads, a community of students living together in close quarters creates a higher potential for the disease to spread. It is with the public health of the student body in mind that the CDC and Princeton Board of Trustees have decided to make the vaccine available to students despite the potential liabilities involved with administering a vaccine yet to be approved in the U.S.

It is with those potential liabilities in mind that Higher Ed Hero asks: What would you do if you had to make the decision of whether or not to release a vaccine ye to be approved in the U.S. to your students? Leave your comments below.

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