Health officials at Washington universities are watching closely as the University of Oregon launches a mass vaccination clinic after three illnesses and a death tied to meningococcal disease.
Health officials at Washington universities are on alert as the University of Oregon launches a mass vaccination campaign to halt the spread of potentially deadly meningococcal infections on the Eugene campus.
Four Oregon students have developed bacterial bloodstream infections known as meningococcemia since the start of the school year, school officials said. Lauren Jones, an 18-year-old freshman from Georgia, died Feb. 17 after becoming infected.
In response, Oregon officials have scheduled a vaccination clinic starting Monday for as many as 22,000 students, plus others at high risk for infection, at the school’s Matthew Knight Arena.
“We are watching this unfold with concern and have increased vigilance here, particularly in a few weeks after our spring-break travelers return March 30,” said Dr. Emily Gibson, director of the student health center at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
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Officials at the University of Washington and Washington State University also said they’ve been monitoring the Oregon cases closely in the wake of the illnesses and death. More than 800 students from Washington state are enrolled at the University of Oregon, records show.
All of the Oregon cases involved the B strain of the bacteria that cause meningitis and related infections — the same strain responsible for outbreaks at Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2013 and 2014. Those outbreaks resulted in a combined 13 infections, including one death, health officials said.
The infections are caused by the Neisseria meningitides bacteria, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When the bacteria infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord, it’s called meningitis. When the infection remains in the blood, it’s called meningococcemia.
Until recently, vaccines available for college students in the U.S. have covered four strains of the bacteria that cause the infections, but not strain B. In response to the recent outbreaks, the federal Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked approval last year of two vaccines that prevent those infections, Trumenba, made by Pfizer, and Bexsero, made by Novartis. They’re now available through local health-care providers.
Both of those vaccines have been offered during a ramp-up this week to the mass UO vaccination clinic, said Julie Brown, a spokeswoman. Starting Monday, the university is partnering with Pfizer for the bulk of the shots.
The series of shots costs about $300 — immunization requires either three doses of Trumenba or two doses of Bexsero, spaced at designated intervals. School officials are working to keep the costs low for students by working with insurance companies, the Oregon Health Plan/Medicaid and others to ensure that the vaccines are covered.
WSU already has Bexserio in stock, said Dr. Dennis Garcia, senior associate medical director. UW officials have held meetings to discuss the availability of the vaccines on campus, said Lynn Sorensen, the nurse manager at Hall Health Center.
Rates of meningococcal disease in the U.S. have been falling recently, with fewer than 1,000 cases a year. The B strain causes about 60 percent of disease in children younger than 5 and about one third of cases in adolescents and young adults, according to the CDC.
College-age students are particularly vulnerable to meningococcal infections, which are spread by close contact, including kissing, or sharing utensils or drinking glasses. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is expected to vote this week on recommendations for use of the meningitis B vaccine in high-risk groups.