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Calif. college students to get imported meningitis vaccine

Meningitis B vaccine clinic, Princeton University
Meningitis B vaccine clinic, Princeton University Princeton University
A meningitis B vaccine offered to Princeton University students last month could soon be available to students at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Both schools have had outbreaks of the potentially deadly infections.Princeton University

Health officials say they’ll soon offer an imported vaccine to prevent more cases of potentially deadly bacterial meningitis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, after last month's vaccination of more than 5,200 students at Princeton University.

Enough shots to cover about 20,000 students could be available at UCSB within several weeks, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. They’re aimed at halting an outbreak of meningitis strain B that sickened four California students in November, including one young man who had to have both feet amputated. No new cases have been reported on campus since Nov. 21.

Vaccines approved in the U.S. protect against four strains of bacterial meningitis — but they don’t cover meningitis B. 

The imported vaccine, Bexsero, is approved in Europe, Australia and Canada, but not in the U.S. Federal health officials got emergency clearance to use it to inoculate the Princeton students in New Jersey last month after an outbreak of meningitis B that has sickened eight people since March.

CDC officials said they couldn’t predict a firmer timeframe for launching the vaccine campaign at UCSB “due to the multiple complex steps that have to take place.”

That frustrates parents like Nancy Gorman of Murphys, Calif., whose son Sean is a UCSB freshman.

“I’m just looking forward to the day, hopefully sooner than later, when my son is standing in line awaiting his ‘shot in the arm,’ and I can breathe a sigh of relief,” she told NBC News.

CDC experts, with state, local and school health officials, are moving forward to get Food and Drug Administration approval to offer the imported vaccine in California, too. Dr. Tom Clark, a CDC meningitis expert, said Monday he expected FDA to approve the plan. 

Bacterial meningitis is a rare but potentially deadly infection that kills 1 in 10 victims and leaves 20 percent of those who survive with severe disabilities. Young adults, including college students, are particularly vulnerable to spreading the infection because of their close and prolonged contact.

JoNel Aleccia is a senior health reporter with NBC News. Reach her on Twitter at @JoNel_Aleccia or send her an email.