CDC Panel: Use Meningitis Vaccine Only for Outbreaks, High Risk Groups

Meningococcal meningitis survivor and vaccination advocate Leslie Meigs looks on as her brother Andrew, a college student in Texas, receives Bexsero.

A Centers for Disease Control panel unanimously voted today in favor of recommending meningococcal group B vaccines for use to vaccinate only high-risk groups in the United States, for example people immune-deficiencies or people potentially exposed during an outbreak.

Novartis, the pharmaceutical company that  manufactures Bexsero, argues that the decision still leaves many college students and adolescents at risk for contracting the disease for the foreseeable future.

“Today’s high-risk recommendation does not cover the majority of adolescents and young adults in the United States, who are at risk for contracting Meningitis B. The Meningitis B cases in recent weeks at Providence College, University of Oregon and Yale University all serve as a sobering reminder of the importance to act before additional individuals contract this potentially life-threatening disease,” said Andrin Oswald, division head of Novartis Vaccines.

The company is calling for a broader recommendation for the use of Meningitis B vaccines, and hopes the panel will vote for broader vaccination its next meeting in June.

Many colleges already require students to get the meningitis A, C, W, Y vaccine, but Meningitis B is not yet required.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Bexsero in January.

The meningitis outbreak at Princeton that began in March of 2013 led to a mass vaccination of students at the school. There was also a meningitis B outbreak at the University of California, Santa Barbara the same year. Novartis provided students and staff at both campuses with doses of Bexsero under the “investigational new drug” designation from the FDA. More than nearly 30,000 doses were distributed to both campuses.

Seven Princeton University students and a campus visitor contracted meningitis B between March of 2013 and December of 2013. Drexel University student Stephanie Ross came in contact with a Princeton University football player at a mixer in Philadelphia and died in March of 2014 after being infected with the same strain of meningitis from the Princeton University outbreak.

The National Meningitis Association has called on policymakers to recommend the vaccine for adolescents.Ross’s father spoke out in support of the move for the association in January.