UCSB Awaits Approval on New Meningitis Vaccine


Julia Frazer
Staff Writer

The University of California, Santa Barbara and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are working to obtain FDA approval to administer a meningitis vaccine on campus that will inoculate against the serogroup B strain. Serogroup B is the source of all four cases of the UCSB outbreak.

“The nature of the disease and the cases at Princeton University this fall support moving forward with vaccination,” said a letter released by Chancellor Henry T. Yang and Student Health Director Dr. Mary Ferris on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. “The University has been working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health officials to expedite access to the vaccine.”

This vaccine targeting serogroup B, already approved for use at Princeton, is in the process of being approved for use at UCSB. Routine vaccinations for meningitis do not protect against serogroup B.

Currently, the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine is licensed for use in Europe, Canada, and Australia. The CDC is pursuing an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA to use the serogroup B vaccine on UCSB students.

“Since this vaccine is not licensed in the United States, it is considered ‘investigational’ and requires a special process in order to use it,” said Ferris.

The CDC reported to NBC on Monday, Jan. 6, that enough shots to vaccinate 20,000 students could be available within several weeks. However, NBC news also reports that CDC officials have been unable to predict a more precise timeframe for launching the vaccine at UCSB, citing the complex steps that must take place before approval.

There have been four confirmed cases of meningitis on the UCSB campus, all of which occurred in November 2013. According to the CDC, no additional cases have been diagnosed since Nov. 21, 2013. The first and most severe case, student Aaron Loy, is currently receiving treatment at a hospital in San Diego.

“The UCSB community’s sincere sympathy goes out to the student who is still recovering, his family and friends,” said Ferris. “A fund has been established to provide financial assistance for his recovery.”

The three other cases have been discharged and have returned to campus.

“CDC and state and local health officials have gathered and analyzed current and historical data and determined that additional cases are likely to occur at UCSB,” according to the CDC. “Based on that conclusion, the request will be made to FDA to gain access to the vaccine.”

UCSB Student Health is working in close contact with Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to report and treat anyone who is at increased risk from close contact with the infected. Close contact involves contact to the ill person’s respiratory secretions through shared eating utensils or cigarettes, kissing, or close face-to-face prolonged contact. Student Health recommends frequent hand-washing and that students avoid sharing drinking cups and smoking devices to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Meningitis can cause fever, headache, stiff neck, unusual rash, vomiting, and photophobia. Students with these symptoms should be sent to the Emergency Room immediately and contact Disease Control at (805) 681-5280.

Further questions about the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine should be addressed to meningvaccine@cdc.gov.