Different vaccines can protect you from different types of meningitis. But many people are only aware of one, leaving them vulnerable to the disease — especially college students.
Many people are aware that meningitis is a vaccine-preventable disease. But a number of people may not know that there are different types of meningitis and different vaccinations are needed to inoculate people from them.
In the United States, there are currently
The first, MenACWY, is a vaccine many people have already had. It’s typically included in the regular vaccine schedule and given to children around age 11. (There is also a MenACWY booster, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people get at age 16.)
However, the second vaccination, MenB, is relatively new.
It was released for use in the United States in 2014. While it’s approved for anyone between the ages of 10 and 25, it hasn’t yet been added to the standard vaccination schedule.
As a result,
According to Alicia Stillman and Patti Wukovits of the Meningitis B Action Project, doctors aren’t talking about this latest option with their patients, leaving many people vulnerable to the disease.
Meningitis acts quickly, causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes.
At first, symptoms can appear flu-like in nature, like headaches, body aches, and fever. But if not caught and treated immediately, meningitis can result in death.
Both Stillman and Wukovits lost daughters to meningitis B before the vaccination was released. The disease claimed the lives of each of their daughters within 48 hours after symptoms began to appear.
The desire to keep other parents from ever having to experience the same tragedy is part of why they both say they’re so passionate about raising awareness of the meningitis B vaccine.
“Healthcare providers either don’t know that there are two types of vaccines, or are not talking to their patients about the MenB vaccine,” Stillman told Healthline.
To back up her claim, she pointed to a study in Pediatrics that found 50 percent of pediatricians and 69 percent of family physicians were failing to routinely discuss the MenB vaccination during appointments with 16- to 18-year-olds.
The reason for this lack of discussion isn’t quite so simple, though, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson, Dr. Chris Nyquist.
As she explained to Healthline, the MenB vaccine isn’t being pushed as hard as other vaccinations right now because it’s still so new.
“We need more data on how long the immunity lasts,” she explained. “The safety of the vaccine has been shown to be very high, but we don’t yet know how long those who receive the vaccine are protected for.”
As a result, the CDC currently has the MenB vaccine listed as one teenagers “
Nyquist also pointed out the vaccine’s high price tag (over $300) — a cost that isn’t covered by some healthcare plans.
There are two different manufacturers with two different dosing techniques (one requiring two injections and the other requiring three), which can further complicate the vaccination process for some patients.
“The recommendation from the CDC is currently based on risk, so we have to talk about the perception of risk with families. It’s a challenging conversation to find out who’s really at risk,” Nyquist explained.
Meningitis, while deadly, is still considered a relatively rare disease.
Because of how rare cases of meningitis are, and because we still don’t have data on how long the vaccination itself lasts, Nyquist said, “Whether the vaccine is the most important thing, or early recognition of the disease is, everyone wants to save children from whatever illnesses they can in a safe, effective way. It’s just how to do that which is sometimes the challenge.”
Still, she recognizes that, “For the families who have lost children to this strain, it’s devastating. They are rare cases, but it’s not a rare case when you’re the one.”
For Stillman and Wukovits, that’s exactly the point. They want to see all teens protected so that no other family has to go through what they did.
“A death from meningitis B is preventable,” Stillman told Healthline. “But we need all healthcare providers to talk to their young patients about the MenB vaccine so patients and parents can make an informed decision. You can’t act on what you don’t know.”
Recent research has found that college students are five times more likely to contract meningitis B than non-college students. This is partially due to the shared communal spaces in which many college students live.
“CDC studies have talked about dorm settings, where you’re in close contact similar to military barracks, as being a risk.” Nyquist explained. “And then there are the behaviors young adults and teenagers are engaging in: kissing, smoking, drinking, sharing bodily fluids. It’s also a stressful period of life. All of those things are creating an environment where you can have an outbreak situation.”
Wukovits agrees. “16- to 23-year-olds are at increased risk of meningitis B because of how they socialize,” she told Healthline. “We know of 31 college campuses affected by meningitis B since 2008.”
The CDC has a report tracking the 10 outbreaks that occurred between 2013 and 2018, resulting in a total of 39 cases and 2 deaths.
Their conclusion was that, “achieving high MenB vaccination is crucial to help protect at-risk persons during outbreaks of meningococcal disease caused by this serogroup.”
Different types of meningitis require different vaccinations to protect young people from the disease.
Two different meningitis vaccines are currently available in the United States.
The first vaccination is MenACWY. It’s typically included in the regular vaccine schedule and is given to children around age 11 with a booster recommended around age 16.
However, the second vaccination, MenB, is relatively new. It was released for use in the United States in 2014. It’s approved for anyone between the ages of 10 and 25 but hasn’t yet been added to the standard vaccination schedule.
Meningitis is a rare but fast-moving disease that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. At first, symptoms can appear flu-like in nature. If not caught and treated immediately, meningitis can result in death.
College students are at a higher risk and are five times more likely to contract meningitis B than non-college students. This is partially due to the shared communal spaces in which many college students live and the lack of vaccination.