A Campus Perspective

This testimony was provided to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on February 26, 2015.

I’m Dr. Mary Ferris, the Student Health Director at the University of California Santa Barbara, a campus of 30,000 students, faculty and staff. In November 2013 our campus community was devastated by an outbreak of 4 cases of meningococcal serogroup B disease within a 10 day period, which resulted in life-threatening complications to our first case of a 19-year-old lacrosse team member, who suffered amputations of both legs and extensive skin grafts and scarring to his arms and face.

I know you’re well aware of the devastating consequences of this terrible disease, but you may not know the impact it has on a university when an outbreak occurs. National news outlets camped out on the campus. There was widespread fear and even panic among students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding city. The local school district initially prohibited our student teachers from their sites, and parents drove in to remove their children from the campus. Our campus child care center asked student volunteers to stay away. Parents demanded that we close the campus, and others did not want their students to come home for Thanksgiving holidays. Our local public health department and CDC had to establish special phone lines to handle the large volume of incoming distress calls.

We greatly appreciate all the help they gave us, including handling even international media attention, but we would have much rather avoided this disaster completely by protecting our students in advance with a vaccine that covers MenB. Outbreaks WILL happen again at other colleges, and in fact is happening right now at the University of Oregon, where they are struggling to find a source to pay for the vaccines. Even ONE CASE in a college setting has major repercussions on the institution, and most colleges will not have the resources to pay for vaccines when the outbreaks occur.

We need the ACIP to establish MenB vaccine as part of routine adolescent immunizations, so that our entering students can be protected before they arrive on campus and are exposed to meningococcus, not just after an outbreak occurs. We also need your recommendation for vaccination before college entry so that we can enforce it as an entrance requirement along with MCV4 coverage. The majority of our students are the first generation in their families to attend college, and they come from low income families that will not be able to afford this vaccine unless it is included in their health insurance coverage.

We sincerely hope you can consider the impact of this disease on both the individuals and our colleges and universities when you make your decisions. Thank you.”

Mary Ferris, M.D., M.A., M.S.Ed., Student Health Executive Director, University of California Santa Barbara