On Feb. 24, Student Health Services will begin offering select students and faculty an experimental meningitis vaccine that is not licensed for use in the U.S., following the use of a similarly unlicensed vaccine at Princeton University in December.
Bexsero — an unlicensed vaccine that is only approved for use in Australia, Canada and Europe — was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use at UCSB, after university officials filed an Investigational New Drug Application with the FDA. The drug protects against the rare serogroup B strain of meningococcal disease, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it protects against 91 percent of all circulating strains of meningococcal disease and meningitis, which is caused by it. This number includes the ST32 strain of meningococcal disease that was responsible for infections contracted by four UCSB students last quarter, including first-year student and lacrosse player Aaron Loy, who had to have his feet amputated as a result of complications from the disease.
The vaccination will be available free of cost at the Rec Cen for two weeks, on a drop-in basis from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to Dr. Mary Ferris, executive director for Student Health Services, the CDC still considers UCSB host to a meningitis outbreak and recommends that all students become vaccinated.
“It would be tragic if someone here got this disease and we could have prevented it with the vaccine,” Ferris said. “So to help prevent further spread, the university supports the CDC’s recommendation and is making this vaccine available at no charge.”
The safety of the vaccine has been called into question, as it was released just last year and can only be used in the United States with case-specific approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Ferris, however, said the vaccine does not pose a danger.
“I don’t think there’s any controversy over the vaccine, but rather that it is newly released in 2013 and not yet licensed in the United States for widespread use,” Ferris said.
In fact, Ferris said the U.S. has probably not yet licensed the vaccine because the rare strain that it protects against — serogroup B — is more common in other regions of the world. She said manufacturers of the drug likely pursued licensing in those areas first.
The vaccine consists of two separate doses and has been successfully administered to 8,000 people across all age groups as well as to over 5,000 students at Princeton University in December of last year. No unusual adverse side effects have been reported.
The CDC confirmed in a statement that the serogroup B vaccine would help to protect against the strain that has circulated the campus.
“Lab testing has been done to establish that the vaccine will help protect against the exact strain of meningococcal bacteria that is causing the outbreak at UCSB,” the statement read.
Fourth-year history major Darlene Moreno plans to make getting the vaccine a priority, having been previously afflicted with the disease.
“I’ve already had meningitis, so anything that can prevent that happening again … I will be the first one there, pretty much,” Moreno said.
Moreno also encouraged other students to get the vaccine.
“I definitely would recommend for other students to get it. [The disease is] really horrible. You don’t want to go through that,” she said.
Photo by Cameryn Brock / Daily Nexus.
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Wednesday, February 5, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.