Meningitis Shots In Short Supply

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

September 19, 2005

This school year there's a shortage of the meningitis vaccine on college campuses nationwide and a local man helped make a key decision that's bumped up the demand for these shots.

Meningitis spreads pretty easily and if you're infected, death isn't out of the question. The Director of UVa's Elson Student Health Center sat on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Committee that recommended a new vaccine, and now all incoming Middle School, High School, and College students need it, which is causing a high demand.

There are 31 states that now require college students to get the shot before they step on campus and only one company produces the new vaccine called Menactra.

"They are producing 400,000 doses ever month and even at that production rate there are still some spot shortages," said James C. Turner, M.D. Director of UVa Elson Health Center. "So the demand is roughly 10 or 15 percent higher than what the supply is."

What makes it so special is that it lasts at least eight years--double the life of the old one. UVa students didn't have a problem getting the shot, but local middle and high school students may have.

"The University Hospital ran out of vaccine. We gave them back about 60 or 70 doses a few weeks ago to try to help them out," Turner said.

If you can't get the new version doctors recommend getting the old one or waiting.

"They should be able to get the vaccine in two or three weeks and that's fine. That's certainly a fine option," said Turner.

There are several things students can do to help prevent the disease.

"Avoiding heavy alcohol use, avoiding tobacco use, taking care of yourself, getting treatment for respiratory infections, getting a flu shot and getting a meningitis shot," said Turner.

Meningitis is spread through saliva and respiratory and nasal secretions such as coughing and sneezing.

Five UVa students had very serious cases of meningitis in the mid 90s--but all survived. The most recent case was in 1996 and the University started vaccinating the next year.

Meningitis is rare, but when it strikes it can be fatal.

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