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Updated: Princeton to make Bexsero available to U.-affiliated individuals in relationships with students

The University will expand access to the unapproved meningitis vaccine Bexsero to include University-affiliated individuals under 30 years of age who are in intimate relationships with students.

The decision was made after ongoing discussion within the University in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said. The announcement was made in an email to all undergraduate students on Thursday afternoon.

Mbugua added that the discussion was ongoing before a Drexel student died of meningitis type B roughly a month ago after reportedly coming into close contact with University students. He said that the decision was not related to the incident.

He added that the decision was made because the people who fit the criteria are the ones most at risk of being in contact with students who could be carriers of the bacteria.

Jason McDonald, a spokesperson for the CDC, explained that while the CDC was consulted about the administration of the vaccine, most of the details were discussed within the University, or between the University and the manufacturer.

“Now that the populations identified by the [CDC] as being at an increased risk of getting meningitis have been offered two doses of the meningitis B vaccine, the CDC is allowing Princeton University to expand the eligible population in order to distribute some of the remaining doses,” an email sent to students Thursday afternoon read.

Joseph Amon, a visiting lecturer at the University and a a former epidemic intelligence officer for the CDC, explained that he thinks the decision was made in order to efficiently use the resources available to the University. He added that he believes that the University made the right decision in determining the eligibility of the recipients, but wondered whether the vaccine could have been administered earlier.

“I think there are certain questions. Should the group have been targeted sooner, possibly? Should there be a wider group of people targeted? You know, I don’t think so. I don’t think the risk is high enough to open up vaccination of an entire community. There’s no evidence of transmission in this community at large, and so it seems like a smart thing to do. The question is, should it have been done sooner?” Amon explained.

Jason Schwartz ’03, a lecturer in the Center for Human Values who studies vaccine policy, added that it makes sense to expand the reach of the vaccine to the eligible individuals but questioned why membership in the University community is one of the criteria.

“There’s no doubt that expanding access to the vaccine outside the University would have significant logistical and administrative challenges, but that in itself can’t be sufficient to prevent the vaccine from being provided to those who would otherwise benefit,” he explained.

However, Schwartz added that it wasn’t necessarily the University’s responsibility to provide access, but rather a responsibility of the overall public health community.

Mbugua explained that the remaining doses of the vaccine are sufficient to cover all eligible individuals under the new set of criteria and added that there was no plan so far in the event that there are doses left over after both rounds of vaccination.

In order to be eligible for the vaccine, individuals must be members of the University community, under 30 years of age, in an intimate relationship with a student previously eligible to receive the vaccine and planning to remain on or near campus for 30 days after receiving each of the first and second doses of the vaccine.

Individuals in close contact with students who are not a part of the University community will not be eligible to receive the vaccine, according to the email.

The application form requests that applicants “briefly describe the close contact” they have with previously eligible students.

Previously eligible students include all undergraduate students and graduate students living in dormitories, the Graduate College or annexes.

The two doses of the vaccine will be made available on April 28-29 and on May 29.

The University has also decided to cancel overnight stays for admitted students during both Preview weekends this month in order to limit the possibility of contracting meningitis from close contact with current undergraduates.

Staff writer Chitra Marti contributed reporting.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article did not accurately state the kind of meningitis that has affected the Princeton campus. This kind of meningitis is bacterial. 

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