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New England College mandates meningitis B vaccine

Union Leader Correspondent

October 01. 2018 11:35AM
New England College is now requiring all incoming freshmen to be vaccinated against meningitis B. 

HENNIKER — This year, New England College joined the ranks of just 13 other colleges and universities throughout the country that have made it mandatory for that all incoming students be vaccinated for meningitis B.

Meningitis B is a subgroup of meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that attacks the lining of the brain and spinal cord. While early symptoms like fever and body aches can mirror the flu, meningococcal disease progresses quickly and can result in serious complications or death if left untreated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 2,600 people in the United States contract meningococcal disease each year and 10 to 15 percent will die of it.

The vaccine for strains A, C, W, and Y has been available for some time, but the meningitis B vaccine was only introduced in 2014.

The timing has resulted in many teens and young adults going unvaccinated for the disease, which has led the CDC to identify people ages 16 through 23 as being at an increased risk of contracting the virus.

Rivier University in Nashua also requires the vaccination for incoming students.

NEC made the decision to require the vaccination this past summer at the request of Laura Anderson, the college’s medical director and nurse practitioner.

“I wanted to make sure our students were protected, so this year I made the decision to have it as a required vaccine for the freshmen,” said Anderson.

Anderson said that life in college residence halls further increases the risk of spreading the disease.

“It’s spread by common things that typical college kids do: kissing, sharing their food, sharing their water bottles and that kind of thing,” Anderson said. “A lot of them are in close quarters environments in residence halls, so coughing and sneezing increases the risk of transmission.”

While upperclassmen are not required to be vaccinated, Anderson says she mentions the vaccine whenever she has a chance to speak to them.

She also stated that the college plans to work with Walgreens Pharmacy to hold a vaccination clinic on campus during the month of October.

Few have experienced the destructive power of meningitis B like Patti Wukovits of Massapequa Park, N.Y., who lost her 17-year-old daughter Kimberly Coffey to the disease in 2012.

Today, Wukovits heads the Kimberly Coffey Foundation, an organization she uses to educate healthcare professionals and the public about the dangers of bacterial meningitis.

Wukovits has also joined forces with other parents who have lost children to meningitis B in order to advocate for broader access to vaccinations against the disease.

Wukovits, a registered nurse herself, says the biggest obstacle her organization faces is the widespread misconception that the meningitis ACWY vaccine protects against meningitis B.

“It’s a confusing message to deliver, and it’s a confusing message to receive,” said Wukovits of trying to teach parents about meningitis B. “These parents think that their children are fully protected, as I did. I was so caught off guard when the doctor told me that my daughter had bacterial meningitis. It’s a very serious problem right now.”

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