Is Your College Kid Vaccinated for Meningitis B?
This post is sponsored by GSK, but all opinions are my own
Parents have a lot of anxiety right now. I know I do. The COVID pandemic shows no real sign of abating in our country, and we’re all grappling with the decision to send our kids to school in person or not. My younger son’s high school is scheduled to start in person in a couple of weeks, and my older son (up until recently) was headed to college out of state. It all freaks me out.
I’ve relied on available vaccines throughout my children’s lives to help protect them from horrible, and possibly lethal, diseases. One of these diseases being meningococcal disease, aka meningitis. Sam, my oldest son who is 19, was vaccinated against Meningitis B just two weeks ago at his final pediatric well-check before college. I was a little surprised when our doctor told us he was due for it because I thought he already had that vaccination. “Yes, but there are two different types of meningitis vaccines,” our doctor told us. “One at a younger age and one at an older age.”
If you aren’t completely clear on this, like I was, don’t feel bad because Meningitis B vaccination has only been available since 2014. According to a recent GSK/IPSOS online survey, only one in three (32%) of the 1500 parents surveyed knew that two different types of vaccines for meningitis are needed to help protect against all five vaccine-preventable groups – one for groups A, C, W, and Y, and another for group B.i Here are the facts:
What is Meningococcal Meningitis?
This disease, known as meningitis, is an uncommon, but serious illness that can cause life-threatening complications, or even death.ii
- Meningitis can attack the lining of the brain and spinal cord and, in some cases cause a serious infection of the blood (sepsis).iii
- Among those who contract meningitis, 1 in 10 will die, despite treatment, sometimes in as little as 24 hours.iv
- Up to 1 in 5 meningitis survivors suffer long-term consequences, such as brain damage, amputations, hearing loss and nervous system problems.v
- Symptoms of meningococcal disease include sudden high fever, severe headache, body aches and chills, stiff neck and a dark purple rash (typically on the torso, arms or legs).vi
Why Are There Two Types of Vaccines?
There are five common groups of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y, and B. The first vaccine, routinely given at age 11-12 (plus a booster at age 16), helps protect against groups A, C, W, and Y. The second, recommended at ages 16-23 (preferably ages 16-18) based on shared clinical decision making, helps protect against group B. [iii] Note that vaccination does not protect all recipients and does not prevent viral meningitis.
Why Should Young Adults Consider Vaccination against Meningitis B?
Teens and young adults are at an increased risk for contracting meningitis because it can spread through certain common behaviors such as living in close quarters like college dormitories, coughing, sneezing, kissing, and sharing drinks, utensils, or smoking devices. vii, viii
While meningococcal disease is uncommon, studies have shown that between 2014-2017, the relative risk of contracting MenB was 3.5 to 5 times higher in college students aged 18-24 years compared with peers not attending college.ix, x, *, †
- Even though Meningitis B vaccination has been available since 2014, recent CDC data show that only about one in five 17-year-olds in the US received at least one dose of MenB vaccination in 2019. xi
- From 2011 through March 2019, Meningitis B caused all US college meningococcal outbreaks, which involved 13 campuses, 50 cases, and 2 deaths among an at-risk population of approximately 253,000 students. x
This Must Mean Most Young Adults Get Vaccinated, Right?
Wrong. In fact, a recent GSK/IPSOS online survey showed most parents were unaware or confused about the vaccines available for meningitis and need more information. i
- Only one in three (32%) of the 1500 parents surveyed knew that two different types of vaccines are needed to help protect against the most common types of meningitis – A, C, W, Y and B. i
- 75% of the 1500 parents surveyed said their child has not been vaccinated (37%) or they are unsure whether they have been vaccinated (38%) against meningitis. i
How Can I Make Sure My Kids Are Vaccinated against All Groups of Meningitis?
Easy: ask your doctor.
We were fortunate that our pediatrician is on top of things and knew when it was time for Sam to get vaccinated against Meningitis B. I strongly suggest you bring it up at your next well-child visit, or earlier if your child is headed off to college or a communal living environment. Definitely check out any requirements at your intended or future schools. While many colleges require MenACWY vaccination, MenB vaccination has only been available since 2014, and most colleges do not require it. xii
You should also visit meningitisb.com for more information about the two different types of vaccines needed to help protect adolescents and young adults against the five vaccine-preventable groups that cause meningitis. Your child may have received MenACWY vaccination when they were younger, but most haven’t received meningitis B vaccination. xii, xi
Top photo source: Depositphotos/[email protected]
[i] Findings of Ipsos survey conducted in the United States during the months of February and March 2020. The survey included 1,500 parents of teens/young adults age 16-23. Funding for the survey was provided by GSK.
[ii] Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Chapter 8: Meningococcal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt08-mening.html. Reviewed December 2019. Accessed November 2020.
[iii] Meningococcal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html. Updated January 2020. Accessed November 2020.
[iv] Pelton SI. Meningococcal disease awareness: clinical and epidemiological factors affecting prevention and management in adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46:S9-S15
[v] Meningococcal Disease: Clinical Information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/clinical-info.html. Reviewed May 31, 2019. Accessed November 2020.
[vi] Meningococcal Disease: Signs and Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/symptoms.html. Updated June 2017. Accessed November 2020.
[vii] Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Chapter 8: Meningococcal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt08-mening.html. Reviewed December 2019. Accessed November 2020.
[viii] Meningitis. Overview. Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350508. Updated October 1, 2020. Accessed November 2020.
[ix] Gary S Marshall, Amanda F Dempsey, Amit Srivastava, Raul E Isturiz, US College Students Are at Increased Risk for Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease, Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society,piz024, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpids/piz024
[x]Sarah A. Mbaeyi, Sandeep J. Joseph, et al. Meningococcal Disease Among College-Aged Young Adults: 2014-2016. Pediatrics. 2019; 143.
[*] 0.17 cases in college students vs. 0.05 cases in peers not attending college per 100,000 population in 2014-2016
[†] 0.22 cases in college students vs. 0.04 cases in peers not attending college per 100,000 population in 2015-2017
[xi] National, Regional, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13–17 Years — United States, 2019. 2020; 69(33). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/pdfs/mm6933-H.pdf. Reviewed August 21, 2020. Accessed November 2020.
[xii] Vaccines and Preventable Diseases. Meningococcal Vaccination for Adolescents: Information for Healthcare Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/mening/hcp/adolescent-vaccine.html. Reviewed July 26, 2019. Accessed November 2020.