Meningitis vaccine in short supply

Freshmen hoping to get their meningitis vaccine when they arrived at school will have to wait until November due to a shortage.

The immunization for meningitis, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and could lead to death, are required by a Massachusetts law passed in August 2005, but a nationwide shortage has left colleges unable to supply students with the vaccine.

“As soon as we know that there has been vaccine released, we’ll have it,” said Pamela Harris, director of Health Outreach Planning and Promotion at University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS).

Meningitis is a fast-acting infection that dispenses fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Cases are rare, but people living in close quarters, like freshman residence halls, are considered at-risk because of the risk for the danger of spreading. However, the vaccine is less communicable than the common cold or even the flu.

Northeastern’s last case of the disease came in 2001, when seven freshmen were sent to the hospital. One was diagnosed with meningitis.

Harris said students who have not received the vaccine will not be barred from beginning classes today, but they will have to sign a waiver saying they have not received the vaccine because of the shortage.

Rumors of a case circulated in 2003, but were later dispelled after doctors ruled out meningitis in a student who was suspected of having the illness.

The shortage of the vaccine is not unique to Northeastern.

The law passed last year in Massachusetts has led to an increase in demand in all Boston colleges.

The Federal Center for Disease Control issued a formal recommendation advising campuses to vaccinate all students. That has led the vaccine’s manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, into a tailspin as they try to meet demands.

“I think it’s primarily a timing issue,” said Donna Cary, a Sanofi Pasteur spokesperson. “Everyone wants the vaccine in the August timeframe. We just can’t supply it all in August.”

Cary said demand has been coming from all over the country.

“I think the main reason is the new vaccine,” she said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand. ”

When the meningitis vaccine was administered last year, Harris estimated the university gave a “couple hundred” vaccinations. The vaccine costs approximately $75 for students.

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