As reported by the New Haven Register, June 17, 2006.

Shortage of Vaccine May Create Issue for Students

By Abram Katz

A national shortage of the most effective meningitis vaccine has Connecticut parents scrambling to find the elusive shots, which dormitory-bound college freshmen must receive under state law.

The state Department of Public Health is advising students to obtain the older, less effective vaccine, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that physicians defer vaccinating 11- and 12-year-olds in favor of older teens who will be living and attending classes under crowded conditions with hundreds of other students this fall.

But even those solutions may not solve the problem.

"We’re out of everything. We can’t get our hands on either vaccine," said Dr. John Shanley, director of infectious diseases at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Where will that leave incoming college students?

"Out in the cold. Hopefully, they’ll be able to have it before school starts," he said.

Shanley said physicians probably did not stock up on Menactra because it costs $75 to $120 to administer and has a shelf-life of about a year. "Lots of doctors don’t want to waste money" by over-ordering the vaccines, he said.

Though there are only 1,400 to 2,800 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States every year, including 50 in Connecticut, the infection of the membranes surrounding the brain causes death in one out of 10 patients.

About 20 percent of survivors are left with neurological disabilities, hearing loss and loss of limbs, according to the CDC.

A meningitis outbreak hit UConn in 1993. Two students, one each from the University of Bridgeport and Trinity College, died from the disease in the early 1990s.

Both meningitis vaccines used in the United States are made by Sanofi Pasteur of Swiftwater, Pa. Menactra, which was approved in January, 2005, defends against four of the five strains of bacteria that most often cause meningitis. The older vaccine, Menomune, is formulated differently and affords protection for three to four years.

"When Menactra was approved, we knew the supply would be limited until 2008, when our new manufacturing facility is built," said Sanofi Pasteur spokeswoman Donna Cary.

The pharmaceutical manufacturer is shipping Menactra and expects to make six million doses by the end of the calender year, she said.

"We knew there would be times of constrained supply. The demand peaks in the summer when students are going back to school," Cary said.

Physicians "vaccinating anyone over 11" are partly responsible for the shortage, she said.

The CDC issued a notice May 19 notifying doctors that demand for Menactra will exceed supply.

Cary said the CDC recommendation to use Menactra on high school and college students should ease the shortage somewhat.

Still, doctors purchase vaccine directly from Sanofi Pasteur and orders placed now will probably not be delivered for several weeks, Cary said.

"Within the past month, a shortage developed," said Dr. Nimrod Dayan, a pediatrician in private practice who is also affiliated with the Hospital of Saint Raphael. "There still should be plenty for college-bound kids. We have it and are saving it for college students," he said.

Dayan said his practice, Pediatric Health Care Associates in Trumbull, has not received any inquiries from anxious parents.

The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis is highly contagious and spread by droplets in coughs and sneezes, said Dr. Robert S. Baltimore, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine and a member of the committee on infectious diseases of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This is why the close quarters of dormitories and military barracks are often the sites of outbreaks, he said,

Lynn Townshend, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said the state has no shortage of Menomune and is advising students to obtain the vaccine. "Connecticut requires that people in dormitories receive meningitis vaccine. Menomune will fulfill the statutory requirements."

The only other advise physicians and public health officials have for parents in search of meningitis shots: start calling doctor’s offices.