Immunization against meningococcal disease is not routinely recommended for all college students. However, undergraduate students, particularly freshmen who live in residence halls, may wish to consider getting the vaccine to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease.
A nationwide study designed to measure the incidence of meningococcal disease in college students and to identify the risk factors for developing disease was recently completed. Data from this study indicate that college students as a group are actually at lower risk for this disease compared with general population.
However, freshman students living in campus residence halls had an incidence rate of meningococcal disease that was modestly higher than other college students. It is not yet clear if being a freshman in a residence hall may simply be a marker for other factors that increase one's risk of disease; some investigators have suggested that overexertion, smoking and drinking may be associated with developing meningitis.
It should be emphasized that meningitis is still a very rare disease. Its occurrence is unpredictable, and we cannot reliably identify who may be at risk.
The currently available meningococcal vaccine covers some, but not all, strains of the bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease. About 30% of cases in college students are caused by a strain that is not included in the vaccine. The vaccine offers protection that lasts for three to five years. The new Menactra vaccine may offer protection that lasts a longer period of time. That may be enough protection for a student to feel that the cost of the vaccine is worth it. This is a personal health, rather than a public health decision given our current understanding of risk for the disease and limitations of the vaccine. We encourage students and their parents to discuss this issue with their family health care provider.
SHS's position on meningococcal vaccine is consistent with the published recommendations of state and federal public health agencies which state that vaccine should be available to those freshmen that wish to reduce their risk of disease. Other undergraduate students wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease can also choose to be vaccinated.
The best time to get the vaccine is before arriving on campus in the fall.
If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us directly: