Vaccine shortage hits EC

by Beacon Staff • September 20, 2006

The vaccination, which guards against viral meningitis, a generally milder but more common version of the illness, is now required for all students entering Emerson, in addition to vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B and tetanus.,A national shortage of Meningococcal vaccine has made the preventative treatment unavailable to some students who have requested it, according to the Center for Health and Wellness.

The vaccination, which guards against viral meningitis, a generally milder but more common version of the illness, is now required for all students entering Emerson, in addition to vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B and tetanus.

Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is usually not fatal, but numerous high-profile cases within the last decade have increased awareness of the disease.

Although Emerson has followed the American College Health Association's advisory telling students to be immunized against meningitis prior to the beginning of classes since 1997, this is the first year that the Meningococcal vaccine has been required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A loophole in the law, however, allows students or their parents to waive the requirement if they so chose.

In July 2005, Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation forcing all colleges to provide incoming freshmen and transfer students with information about the immunization from meningitis.

In April, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of advisors to the federal Centers for Disease Control, issued a recommendation that the meningitis vaccine be given to children and teens between the ages of 11 and 15.

The increased demand for the drug led to the shortage, according to Mary Powers, director of the Center for Health and Wellness.

As a provider of the vaccine, the college is not allowed to order more than 20 doses in a 30- to 35-day period to avoid leading to shortages in local providers' storehouses, Powers said.

The new restrictions have forced Emerson to offer an alternative to getting vaccinated in their hometown.

Some students in the Boston area had little or no trouble depending on their medical practitioner, but others had depended on Emerson for the shot.

But when that simple alternative was not available, new incoming students were sent a waiver they could send back to the school.

A letter accompanying the waiver stated there was a shortage in the Boston area and students might be unable to receive the vaccine the required two weeks before classes began if they relied on Emerson for the vaccination.

During orientation week, the Center for Health and Wellness held an immunization workshop that students could attend if they had not completed the prescribed course of vaccinations.

Approximately 88 students have requested the vaccine, so some may not actually get the drug until early January, Powers said.

Freshman communication studies major Rebecca Greenwald was one student who requested the vaccine.

"I have to wait four months, since I'm number seventy-four on the list," Greenwald said. "Now I have to go back to New York City and get it."

There is only one producer of the meningococcal vaccine for the entire United States, a French corporation, Sanofi-Pasteur.

According Safoni-Pasteur Director of Public Relations Donna Cary, the company produces six million doses of the meningococcal vaccine for the US each year, but with an increasing number of colleges requiring the vaccine for students, the company is planning to begin making more.

Next year, an expected seven million doses will be produced.

However, this increase does not help Timmy Banwart a freshman marketing communications major.

"I decided to get it here because I thought it would be simpler," Banwart said. "But I stand before you now, unvaccinated."