Princeton University Weighing Decision To Give Students Meningitis Vaccine Not Approved In U.S.

Officials at Princeton University are facing a bit of a medical dilemma over whether or not students should get an emergency vaccine against meningitis after a recent spate of the possibly fatal disease has sickened seven students. So what’s the big deal, if it could help stop a further outbreak at the school? The vaccine isn’t exactly approved for use in the United States.

The school’s board of trustees are working with medical staff and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to figure out how best to ward against the illness. The only vaccine that’s aimed at meningitis group B, which is the form that’s shown up at Princeton, is a product called Bexsero made by Novartis. It’s approved for use in Europe and Australia, but not here.

“We have filed an Investigational New Drug application for our MenB vaccine in the U.S., but have not yet come to an agreement on a pathway to licensure for this vaccine with regulatory authorities,” a Novartis spokeswoman told CNN.

The company is talking to Princeton, the CDC and the state Department of Public Health about getting around the usual obstacles to get the vaccine to students. The CDC says it’s considered “a safe vaccine.”

This outbreak is a bit puzzling to officials, as group B meningitis is a bacterial form of the disease that’s usually pretty rare here. Symptoms include stiff neck, headache, fever, vomiting, rashes, sensitivity to light and confusion. If you aren’t treated for it, complications can include brain damage, amputations and death.

“Usually, when you see this kind of meningitis on the campus, it’s meningitis C,” a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University told CNN. “This is very, very unusual.”

He adds that if he were at the table discussing the unapproved vaccine, he’d be “gently encouraging them to do this” as it would be justified in this case.

All of the students who contracted meningitis are now recovered except for the most recent case, a student who is still in the hospital after his Nov. 8 diagnosis.

Princeton weighing whether to offer meningitis vaccines [CNN]