Support voiced for vaccine to prevent meningitis

Earlier use of a new meningococcal vaccine may provide protection to young teens through their vulnerable college years.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted June 20, 2005

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Washington -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended May 26 that meningococcal vaccine be given routinely to 11- and 12-year-olds, to previously unvaccinated 15-year-olds entering high school and to college freshmen living in dormitories.

The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the new directive in a policy statement issued the same day. The American Academy of Family Physicians also announced its support for the vaccine.

The CDC recommendations, which were also then published in the May 27 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, are seen as an effective preventive strike against meningococcal disease, a potentially fatal bacterial infection, which, though rare, can progress rapidly. It kills about 300 of the 3,000 people infected by it each year, and survivors may have long-term disabilities that include hearing loss, limb amputation or brain damage.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices determined in February that establishing the target age for the vaccine at 11 may give lasting immunity through college. Studies have also found that the disease peaks in 16- to 18-year-olds, supporting the vaccination of 15-year-olds. Lifestyle factors, which include crowded living conditions, such as dormitories, make teens in college more vulnerable to the disease.

A vaccine recommendation for young teens could also provide a much needed boost to a routine teen health care visit, an outcome that many in public health would applaud.

Meningococcal disease is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in toddlers, adolescents and young adults. And although meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin, the high rate of fatalities and aftermath of serious disabilities makes prevention the better route, said AAP President Carol Berkowitz, MD.

A new meningococcal vaccine, Menactra, or MCV4, approved by the Food and Drug Administration last January for use in people ages 11 to 55, is expected to provide longer protection in a single shot than did previous vaccines, according to the CDC.

However, it does not protect people against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B bacteria, the CDC warned in a statement. This serogroup causes one-third of meningococcal cases in the United States and more than half of the cases among infants younger than 1 year. No vaccine is yet available to prevent disease caused by this serogroup.

Brent Sherard, MD, MPH, interim director of the Wyoming Dept. of Health, applauded the recommendations. Since 2000, 13 cases of meningococcal infections have been reported in his state, including one 19-year-old who died. "I strongly encourage those at increased risk to get vaccinated."

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External links

"Prevention and Control of Meningococcal Disease," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 27 (link)

CDC on meningococcal disease (link)

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