New England College one of few in the country to require new meningitis B vaccine for freshmen

  • A "welcome new students" sign is seen outside the Simon Center at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Classes begin on Monday. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 9/7/2018 1:51:38 PM

New England College has joined one of a handful of colleges in the country to require incoming freshmen to be vaccinated against meningitis B, a relatively new vaccine against a strain of the bacterial disease that can cause serious complications or even be fatal.

“Meningitis A has had a vaccine for quite some time now. The meningitis B vaccine came out in 2014, and it’s not well known. There are actually a lot of providers out there that don’t know about it – I’m hearing that from my students,” said Laura Anderson, a nurse practitioner who is the medical director for the Henniker college.

“We have never had an outbreak of meningitis on this campus, and our intention is to protect our students and make sure that we never do,” she said.

Meningitis usually affects the brain or spinal column, although the term also includes some blood diseases.

The meningitis bacteria is usually spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, such as by kissing or between people living in close quarters. It is most prevalent among people aged 16 to 23, and meningitis B outbreaks are not uncommon at colleges, especially in dormitories. Last February, for example, five colleges in western Massachusetts, including UMass-Amherst, had outbreaks of meningitis B.

The disease can often be treated with antibiotics, but early detection is important. A woman from the Midwest whose teenage daughter died of the disease just 36 hours after the symptoms were noticed has co-founded a group called the Meningitis B Action Project, which is pushing to provide more information about the disease and the need for vaccination. 

Anderson is part of the Meningitis B Action Project. According to the group, only a dozen colleges or universities in the country require the vaccine for some or all of their students. Rivier University in Nashua is the only other New Hampshire college with the mandate.

Anderson would like to change that. “We want to do a rollout to colleges,” she said of the Meningitis B Action Project. 

Even better, she said, would be to get vaccinations done in high school students, but that will require even more work.

“A lot of students are saying, ‘why do I need this? I got my shots!’ ” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of education to be done.” 

Anderson said the mandate that students receive the vaccine before they get to school has the “full support” of the administration.  The college also requires vaccines for meningitis A, chicken pox, hepatitis B, and the combination vaccines known as MMR – measles, mumps rubella – and TDaP, which protects against tetanus, diptheria and pertussis or whooping cough.

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