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Panel Recommends Booster Shot for Meningitis

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advised that teenagers 16 and older should receive a booster vaccine for meningococcal meningitis.

The current vaccine does not offer immunity for as long as was originally anticipated; the expectation was that children vaccinated at 11 would be covered for ten years.  However, in some instances, the vaccine is providing immunity for only five years or less.

This poses a problem, as meningitis outbreaks typically strike during the early college years – in recommending a booster at 16, the panel hopes to minimize risk on college campuses as much as possible.

There was some debate among panel members on whether or not to simply delay vaccination or to recommend the booster, which costs $100.  In coming to their conclusion, they estimated how many deaths would be prevented by delaying the vaccine versus recommending a booster shot.  Currently, the vaccination prevents 9 deaths per year.  Delaying the vaccine would prevent 14 deaths, while the booster would mitigate risk further by preventing 24 deaths per year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mengococcal meningitis is the most serious form of meningitis illnesses, which result inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.   

It’s caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis and is particularly deadly.  Once the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria enter the blood stream, they multiply and damage blood vessel walls, causing bleeding into the skin and organs.

Signs of the disease are fever, fatigue vomiting, cold hands and feet, severe aches and pains in the joints and/or muscles, chest or abdomen, diarrhea and rapid breathing.  In the final stages, a petechial rash may appear, as may gangrene in the hands and lower extremities.

In fatal cases of the disease, death can occur within only a few hours.  In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities can arise from limb amputations and severe scarring from skin grafts.