TRENTON, N.J. – Students attending county colleges, colleges and universities in the state must receive meningitis vaccinations under new legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy this week.
“This extremely contagious illness can easily spread among young people who are living in dormitories and sharing spaces in college,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union), sponsor of the bill (A1991). “Because there are different strains, it’s important students receive the appropriate shots before enrolling in school. This measure will help prevent outbreaks in the state.”
New Jersey is one of 38 states requiring college students be inoculated with the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. It has been available since the 1980s and helps prevent meningitis caused by four types of bacteria. Meningitis B vaccines have only been available since late 2014. The traditional vaccination is given at age 11 or 12 with a booster dose at 16, and the meningitis B shot should be administered to teens between the ages of 16 and 18.
Munoz’ bill mandates the recommendations of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee that both vaccines be administered before a student starts college.
“The CDC is the lead agency for tracking communicable diseases and issuing recommendations. It makes sense to follow its guidelines to better protect students and others,” said Munoz. “Students are especially vulnerable to meningitis, which can be spread by kissing, sharing eating utensils or water bottles, or coughing or sneezing in close proximity to others.”
Meningitis is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease that inflames the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can progress quickly, causing death within 48 hours, and lead to permanent brain damage, loss of limbs and hearing, and other long-term effects.
Cases of bacterial meningitis have been reported at Princeton in 2013 and 2014 and Rutgers in 2016. A total of 10 students were affected by the outbreaks leading to the death of a Drexel University student who was visiting Princeton in 2014.
Bacterial meningitis was responsible for an average of 500 deaths per year in the U.S. between 2003 and 2007.