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Incoming Princeton Freshmen to Receive Meningitis Vaccine

Incoming freshmen at Princeton University next fall will be offered a vaccine to protect against a deadly outbreak of bacterial meningitis.

Freshmen students entering Princeton University this fall will be offered a vaccine to protect against a rare strain of bacterial meningitis responsible for an ongoing outbreak of illnesses — and the death of a student at nearby Drexel University.

About 1,300 incoming students will be eligible to receive Bexsero — a vaccine licensed in other countries, but not the U.S. — which was imported under emergency conditions last fall, said Martin Mbugua, a Princeton spokesman.

Freshmen were recently added to groups recommended to get the shots by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine people associated with Princeton have been sickened by the outbreak of bacterial meningitis strain B, which is not covered by existing vaccines recommended for college students.

That includes Drexel University sophomore Stephanie Ross, 19, who died March 10 after contracting a meningococcal infection during a gathering with Princeton students, health officials said.

In the wake of the ongoing outbreak, Princeton officials also canceled overnight stays for the upcoming Princeton Preview, an introductory visit to the campus for admitted students.

Across the country, students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were also offered Bexsero after an outbreak sickened four students last November. About half of the 18,000 students eligible for the vaccine were inoculated, school officials said.

Bacterial meningitis is a rare but dangerous infection that kills 10 percent of those who contract it and leaves 20 percent with devastating side effects. Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable and health officials recommend that college students receive U.S.-licensed vaccines that protect against four strains of meningitis, but not B.

Officials with Novartis, which makes Bexsero, have said they plan to apply for U.S. licensure as early as second quarter of this year, depending on guidance from the federal Food and Drug Administration.