Beyond the Bubble | Jan. 5

As CDC moves to provide Bexsero to UCSB, no meningitis precautions planned for Class of 2018, Preview students

In the wake of the vaccination campaign against meningitis B that began on campus last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to provide Bexsero, the meningococcal B vaccine, to students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, according to a CDC announcement on Dec. 31.

After eight cases of the disease were confirmed at the University last year, 5,268 individuals received a first dose of the vaccine during a weeklong vaccination campaign in December, a number that represents 91 percent of the population to which it was made available, including 93 percent of all undergraduates. The vaccine was made available to all undergraduate and graduate students who live in dormitories, as well as other members of the University community with certain medical conditions. The second dose of the vaccine will be made available to these populations in February.

University officials have not yet determined whether the vaccine will be offered to students matriculating in the fall and are currently discussing that question with the CDC, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said. They have also not yet determined whether any special accommodations will be made during this spring’s Princeton Preview, during which just-admitted students come to campus for a weekend.

“CDC officials do not feel that we need to make changes regarding Princeton Preview. However, the University may make some accommodations for concerned individuals,” Mbugua said. Any special accommodations, such as a visiting student avoiding the dormitories that have traditionally housed Preview students, would be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the visitors’ individual concerns.

In response to the outbreak at UCSB, the CDC has moved forward with an Investigational New Drug application, filed with the Food and Drug Administration, to execute the vaccination campaign. The decision followed four reported cases of meningitis B at the campus, including one in which a student had his feet amputated due to the disease’s effects.

Bexsero is currently licensed for use in Europe, Canada and Australia, but not the United States. The IND application is a federal requirement for pharmaceutical companies to ship drugs before they have been granted formal approval.

UCSB students and their parents were notified of this process on Dec. 23, when health officials sent out a community-wide email stating that the IND application process had been initiated.

“Following a CDC site visit to campus earlier this month and a careful review of the historical epidemiology of the disease at our University and in the local community, the CDC … will be moving forward with an Investigational New Drug application (IND) with the Food and Drug Administration,” the email read.

“It’s still an unlicensed vaccine, and just because it was done at Princeton, it doesn’t make the process any easier,” Dr. Thomas Clark, head of CDC’s Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch, told The Daily Princetonian. “So a lot of stuff needs to happen, but again, we are working to make the vaccines available.”

The meningitis outbreak at UCSB was not caused by the same strain of meningitis found at Princeton, according to the CDC. While both strains were identified as meningococcal bacteria type B, CDC experts have found their “genetic fingerprints” do not match.

The announcement comes after a series of complaints from UCSB students and their families who requested the vaccine. Dr. Cristina Lete, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Massachusetts whose son attends UCSB, sent her son to London during the school’s winter break to acquire the vaccine, NBC News reported.

The IND application in response to Princeton’s outbreak, which has confirmed eight cases since March 2013, was filed in October and received final approval on Nov. 18 of last year. UCSB is awaiting final decisions prior to officially administering the vaccine. With over 20,000 full-time undergraduate and graduate students, the vaccination campaign could be significantly larger than Princeton’s.

Princeton’s vaccination campaign makes Bexsero available to approximately 5,800 people. Students who were away from campus for study abroad or other reasons during the December campaign will be offered the first dose at a later date.

Even after the student population has received the vaccine’s second dose, experts still urge University students to continue taking precautions to protect their personal hygiene. Students are encouraged to refrain from sharing cups or drinking utensils and to wash their hands frequently, as University and CDC officials have advised the community for the past few months.

News Editor Patience Haggin contributed reporting.

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