Teens Should Get Meningitis Booster Shot: CDC Panel

WEDNESDAY Oct. 27, 2010 -- Teenagers should get a booster shot of the vaccine that protects against bacterial meningitis, a United States health advisory has recommended.

The panel made the recommendation because the vaccine appears not to last as long as previously thought.

In 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the meningitis vaccine -- usually given to college freshman -- be offered to 11 and 12 year olds, the Associated Press reported. The vaccine was initially aimed at high school and college students because bacterial meningitis is more dangerous for teens and can spread easily in crowded settings, such as dorm rooms.

At that time the panel thought the vaccine would be effective for at least 10 years. But, information presented at the panel's meeting Wednesday showed the vaccine is effective for less than five years.

The panel then decided to recommend that teens should get a booster shot at 16.

Although the CDC is not bound by its advisory panels' recommendations, the agency usually adopts them. However, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official, Norman Baylor, said more studies about the safety and effectiveness of a second dose of the vaccine are needed, the AP reported.

Some at the meeting wondered if it was even necessary to make such a decision. Cases of bacterial meningitis are at historic lows, and a survey of more than 200 colleges and universities -- representing more than 2 million students -- in the last academic year found 11 cases of bacterial meningitis and three deaths, the AP reported.

In a news release issued after the vote, the National Meningitis Association said it "supports [the] decision to maintain meningococcal immunization at age 11-12 and to add a booster dose to provide increased prevention of disease among adolescents throughout their high-risk years. This is a good public health decision that will protect our children from meningococcal disease."

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, and is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The disease can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities, according to the CDC.

In January, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found that rates of pneumococcal meningitis have declined substantially since a vaccine was introduced in 2000.

The declines were seen not only in children given the vaccine but also in adults, suggesting a "herd immunity" effect, the study authors noted.

To assess the effect of the vaccine, researchers from several universities analyzed surveillance data from 1998 to 2005 in eight states. The number of cases of the disease dropped 30 percent in that time, but the effect on the very youngest and oldest was even more pronounced: Incidence decreased by 64 percent in those younger than 2 and by 54 percent in those older than 65.

More information

For more on meningitis, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Posted: October 2010


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