TRENTON, N.J. – With hundreds of students living in close quarters, college residence halls are ripe for the spread of infectious illnesses like meningitis B. To prevent outbreaks, colleges may soon require meningitis vaccines for students living on campus under a bill advanced by the Assembly today.
Sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, the legislation (A1991) mandates inoculations for meningitis B recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This will help prevent outbreaks at colleges in the state,” said Munoz (R-Union). “The illness can easily spread among people living in close proximity like dorms. Since there are different strains, it’s important for students to receive the appropriate shots before heading off to school.”
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.
Munoz’ bill mandates the recommendations of a CDC advisory committee that both vaccines be administered before a student starts college. The traditional vaccination should be 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.
“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 living on campus 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.