UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Months or even years after New Student Orientation, it can be difficult for students and their families to remember what vaccines they’ve received, what boosters they’re due for, and, in many cases, what the difference is among them.
To protect their own health and the health of the campus community, Penn State encourages students to have regular and ongoing conversations with their health care provider about immunizations and the importance of staying up-to-date.
One uncommon, yet potentially serious vaccine-preventable health threat among students is meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, which can be further classified into five primary serogroups: A, B, C, Y and W. The infection has the potential to cause major neurological dysfunction, motor impairment, loss of limbs, and other serious complications, including death.
College students in close living environments may be especially at risk for the disease. While Penn State currently requires students living in University housing to be immunized against serogroups A, C, Y and W through the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, the University strongly recommends that students also receive the meningitis B vaccine.
Often referred to by the drug names Trumenba and Bexsero, the meningitis B vaccine was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014. The vaccine is recommended for individuals ages 10 to 25 and protects against meningococcal disease caused by the serogroup B bacteria — a strand that, until recently, has not been vaccine-preventable.
In September 2018, one student living on campus at University Park was diagnosed with meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B. The student was treated at Mount Nittany Medical Center and released without lasting complications; however, the illness can be severe. In 2017, the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified 349 probable or confirmed cases of meningococcal disease across the country; 133 cases were attributed to serogroup B.
“In addition to appropriate hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and eliminating sharing of food and drinks, vaccination is among the top-tier of illness prevention methods,” said Shelley Haffner, infectious disease manager for Penn State University Health Services. “In addition to the immunizations required by Penn State, University Health Services offers a full list of strongly recommended vaccines. We suggest that all students review this list with their health care provider on a regular basis. Winter break is a great time to schedule that conversation.”
The full list of recommended vaccines, including the meningitis B vaccine, as well as those required by the University, can be found on the University Health Services website.
Penn State’s immunization requirements are established by guidelines set forth by state law in accordance with recommendations from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC. While some states have recently pushed to mandate the meningitis B vaccine for students in higher education settings, it is not yet required in Pennsylvania.
Students can get the meningitis B vaccine — or any of the vaccines recommended by Penn State — by contacting their primary care provider or scheduling an appointment with University Health Services.