Using an Unapproved Meningitis Vaccine? – Not So Fast ~ By Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, ABIHM

Over the last week, there has been a lot of noise, eh, news about the meningitis outbreak at Princeton University and the “rush” to bring in an unapproved vaccine from Europe to mass vaccinate the kids on campus. Here are important considerations for you to know:


1. This is not an epidemic: Only 7 cases of have occurred since March (9 months). The media needs to stop spreading hysteria. This is the definition of an epidemic:

Widely prevalent; Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection and affecting many individuals in an area or a population at the same time; An outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely.

The bacteria is not spread through the air and it doesn’t live outside the human body for very long. You cannot get meningitis from casual contact. The infection occurs randomly and will not spread rapidly across the campus to other students.

2. Strain type: There are more than 12 serotypes (strains) of Neisseria bacteria. The cases at Princeton involves serotype B, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and sepsis in infants in Europe and causes of up to 60% of cases in the U.S. Of note, none of the meningitis vaccines recommended for college admission (Menomune, Menactra or Menveo) produce antibodies against the serotype B strain. Interestingly, certain strains of meningococcal bacteria are actually beneficial. Read more here.

3. There has been no approved vaccine for serotype B for many years. Why? Meningitis vaccines for strains A, C, Y, and W-135 are made from a fragment of the bacteria’s cell wall. In the event the bacteria gets past the body’s external barriers of defense and into the blood stream, the vaccine-induced antibody seeks out the fragment sequence on the surface of the bacteria and “kills it” by a process called lysis.

Manufacturing a similar cell-wall antigen vaccine is not possible for serotype B bacteria. The sugar sequences on the surface of this bacteria are very similar to the sugar sequences on the surface of human brain and nerve cells. Therefore, vaccine-induced antibodies can attack the brain and the nerves, causing a debilitating, life-long, autoimmune reaction.

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