If Type B Meningitis were a movie character, it would be more ominous than anything we could possibly imagine. A deadly, stealth-like infection that first appears like the flu, Type B Meningitis specifically preys on those 14 to 24 years old who ultimately find themselves in tight-knit social circles, sharing water bottles, living in dormitories, military barracks or other confined areas.
Ten percent of the nearly 3,000 who contract this disease each year die within hours, another 15 percent are permanently disabled, losing their hearing, limbs, or suffering organ failure. Type B outbreaks have occurred on campuses such as Princeton, Drexel, San Diego State and much closer to home at the University of Oregon. When the disease strikes, campus communities are often left scrambling to respond. The only hope of true, proven prevention is vaccination, and I’m happy to report that some local pharmacy students are stepping up to make a difference.
Today , Doctor of Pharmacy candidates at the ISU College of Pharmacy are teaming up with the Idaho Immunization Coalition to administer free Meningitis B vaccinations to students ages 19 and older at the Meridian and Pocatello campuses. Just a few years ago, the Idaho Immunization Coalition did a similar outreach providing basic meningitis shots to more than 4,200 students statewide. This new Type B effort is the first of its kind in Idaho and will also include free follow-up vaccination doses for the students.
Pharmacy students recognize the true dangers of this disease and want to elevate the level of awareness about vaccinating against Type B Meningitis, while encouraging those in their own age group to get the shots. To their credit, they’ve created a social media effort for their Operation Immunization effort that will encourage students to share photos from their “shot day” and use #menbnotatmyu in their posts. The fact is, many students simply don’t know about Type B vaccinations, which were only approved for use within the past year. It’s hoped this student-to-student effort will educate and empower them to get the shots.
Of course, it would be easy for ISU students to just stop there, but they realize this is a much bigger issue. The APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists group involved is preparing a resolution asking ISU and other universities to consider policy changes to require all incoming students to be up to date with their vaccination schedules, which would include Type B Meningitis. There is currently no requirement to do so. Other universities and states are making these changes in policy following various meningitis outbreaks nationwide. The students’ resolution will also go to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
The encouraging news is that ISU and other universities and colleges in Idaho are already doing what they can to keep their student populations healthy. Science and medical advancements continue to produce new levels of protection through the proven means of vaccination. Solutions will come by being proactive and growing existing immunization programs as needed. Type B Meningitis is one such disease that calls for a change in policy. We have an obligation to not only educate our young people, but to listen and learn from them as well. Hopefully, this effort to do battle against one of the darkest diseases to threaten young people will put all of us on a path to a better immunization policy.
Kevin W. Cleveland, PharmD, is the Director of Student Services and Assistant Dean at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy in Meridian.
Idaho residents aged 19 to 25 can be vaccinated against Type B Meningitis for free from 1 to 5 p.m. today at the Idaho State University-Meridian campus, 1311 E. Central Drive, Meridian. There are 50 doses of the vaccine available.