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California Students Line Up For Meningitis Shots

The first of 18,000 University of California, Santa Barbara, students lined up for shots Monday as the school began offering an imported vaccine to halt an outbreak of dangerous meningitis that sickened four, including one young man who lost his feet.

Image: A student receives a meningitis vaccine at a clinic at University of California, Santa Barbara
A student receives a meningitis vaccine at a clinic at University of California, Santa Barbara. University of California, Santa Barbara

"My dad's a pediatrician and he's been sending me emails over and over to go get it," said Carly Chianese, 20, a junior from Bayville, N.Y., who showed up a half-hour before the UCSB clinic opened.

It’s the second time in three months that government health officials have inoculated U.S. college students with an emergency vaccine, Bexsero, to protect against the B strain of meningitis.

More than 5,400 students at Princeton University in New Jersey received the vaccine in December after an outbreak sickened eight there. Another 4,400 got booster shots last week.

No new cases have been detected at UCSB since November, but health officials said the vaccine licensed in Europe, Australia and Canada but not in the U.S. would stop future spread of the infection. Current vaccines available in the U.S. protect against four strains of meningitis, but not the B strain.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that kills 1 in 10 affected and leaves 20 percent with severe disabilities. Shots will be offered at UCSB from Monday through March 7, with a second series planned for later this spring.

“During the last couple of outbreaks on college campuses, there have been additional cases over a year or two years,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There is certainly that possibility. We strongly recommend that students get vaccinated.”

An 18-year-old UCSB freshman, Aaron Loy, had to have his feet amputated after a meningitis B infection last fall.

The vaccination drive came as a relief to many UCSB parents who pressured school and health officials to allow the vaccinations to go forward.

“I am so relieved that the vaccine is going to be administered,” said Gavin Brooks, whose 20-year-old daughter, Charlotte, planned to be among those in line.

Novartis, which makes Bexsero, is trying to get it licensed in the U.S.

The Princeton and UCSB outbreaks have forced health officials to consider offering the vaccine more widely in urgent situations. On Wednsesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will hear reports on the emergency clinics and discuss first steps to creating guidelines for when to use the meningitis B vaccine, Cohn said.