UC Santa Barbara students soon could have access to an imported vaccine for meningococcal disease if national, state and local health officials have any say in the matter.
Students returned to campus for the new quarter this week, two months after four undergraduate students became ill with meningitis within a three-week period.
The cases constituted an outbreak because three were diagnosed in the same week in November.
While no cases have been reported since, university officials have been working alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the California Department of Public Health to allow those at highest risk access to a vaccine for serogroup B meningococcal disease — the type that struck UCSB.
So far, the vaccine is licensed only for use in Europe, Canada and Australia, and officials will have to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to administer it.
Exactly when that approval will come, however, is unknown. A CDC spokeswoman could not provide a timeline for approval, but said the multistep process was “under way.”
In a letter to the campus community last month, Chancellor Henry Yang said UCSB officials see hope in the fact that the FDA green-lighted the vaccine’s use during a similar, serious outbreak at Princeton University late last year.
“While we are reassured that no additional cases of meningococcal disease have occurred in community members since Nov. 21, 2013, the nature of the disease and the cases at Princeton University this fall support moving forward with vaccination,” Yang wrote.
Before now, no vaccination was available for this particular strain of meningococcal disease, although vaccinations exist and are recommended for the other four strains.
One case at UCSB resulted in a permanent disability when doctors were forced to amputate freshman lacrosse player Aaron Loy’s lower legs in order to save his life.
Health officials at the time provided preventive antibiotics to more than 500 students who were identified as having close contact with the ill students, and told other students to avoid social events where the Neisseria meningitides bacteria could better spread.
If and when the FDA approves the vaccine, UCSB will make a final decision about whether to administer it, according to university spokesman George Foulsham.