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New Meningitis Vaccine Requirement Affects Seniors

By Cara Becker

Shots for Safety—Senior Shrinath Viswanathan is vaccinated for the meningitis virus at his doctor’s office. Photo reproduced by permission of Shrinath Viswanathan
Shots for Safety—Senior Shrinath Viswanathan is vaccinated for the meningitis virus at his doctor’s office.

Photo reproduced by permission of Shrinath Viswanathan

A sudden high fever strikes, and his neck becomes stiff as a board. He begins to feel extremely uneasy and develops red ticks on his body. According to Erin Guy of 25 WBPF News, these are the symptoms eight year old Ronald James Champagne from Port St. Lucie, Florida showed. He was diagnosed with meningitis. His death was sudden and unexpected, shocking the entire community.

Meningitis occurs when the membranes around the brain and spinal cord swell. Over time, scientists have discovered ways to inhibit the spread of this disease through the use of vaccines. The meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine became accessible to the public in the early 1970s.

Currently, three types of meningococcal vaccines are available: meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (recommended for adults), meningococcal conjugate vaccine (recommended for children), and a meningococcal B vaccine (recommended for young adults 16-23 year olds). Because of an increase in meningitis outbreaks in 2005, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) mandated the meningitis conjugate vaccine for students entering the seventh grade. In 2015, Governor Cuomo signed a law to require students entering twelfth grade to receive an additional dose of the vaccine starting in 2016.

The legislation aims to reintroduce meningitis-inducing pathogens to the immune system. Although this health regulation existed for over a decade, this is the first year that New York State is mandating the vaccine for incoming seniors.

According to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), meningococcal disease can spread like wildfire in large group settings, like dormitories and schools. Just a sneeze or the sharing of a drink can lead to contraction of the disease.

While other communicable diseases are more treatable, meningitis is often lethal. Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, said that the “meningococcal disease is rare but very serious and often a deadly disease that is more often seen in teenagers and hits without warning. Even with antibiotic treatment, 10-15% die and another 20% suffer long term effects such as hearing loss or brain damage.” Teens are at the highest risk of contracting the disease because they are often in close contact with each other. Dr. Trachtenberg said, “Teen years are an important time to be protected, and the vaccine is the best way to do this.”

Dr. Laura Gal, a specialist in pediatric medicine, added, “Due to lowering concentrations of antibodies in the blood over time, the ACIP have recommended the booster.”

The effects of meningitis vaccines are usually slight, mild, and short-lived. On site, it is common to see redness and soreness after receiving the vaccination. School nurses Ms. Suzanne Cutrone and Ms. Carla Russo said that the “symptoms can be similar to the flu. Of course, every case can result in long term disability, such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, and a host of other serious problems.”

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