The University of California-Santa Barbara began vaccinations for meningitis on Feb. 24. The vaccinations are welcome, but too late for UCSB lacrosse player Aaron Loy, whose feet were amputated after he contracted meningitis in November.
The reason Loy and other UCSB students hadn't already been vaccinated is because the federal Food and Drug Administration has delayed the vaccine's approval. In short, the FDA's policy is that the vaccine can't be deployed when doctors believe it could be most valuable (before an outbreak), but will approve its use when the vaccine is least helpful, after an outbreak has run its course for months.
Loy was one of four UCSB cases of meningitis B (MenB), a highly contagious and life-threatening bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. MenB strikes without warning and can cripple and kill victims in just 24 hours. About one in 10 people who contract the disease will die; one in five survivors will have permanent disabilities.
A year ago this month, a student at Princeton University was similarly diagnosed with MenB. After four confirmed cases, officials declared an official outbreak, which soon grew to eight cases, that might have been avoided if students had been immunized.
Unfortunately, MenB is the one form of meningitis for which there is no approved vaccine in the U.S., even though MenB was the cause of about one-third of the 500 meningitis cases reported in 2012.