State doctor's group urges meningitis vaccine for University of Maryland students

The state’s largest doctor’s group called on the University of Maryland to require its students to get the meningitis B vaccine, joining other health advocates in making the request to Big Ten Conference schools.

The Maryland State Medical Society, or MedChi, said the life-threatening condition can spread easily in dormitories, classrooms and places where students are in close quarters.

The meningitis B strain has been the cause of most of the meningitis outbreaks at colleges and universities across the country, including multiple outbreaks last school year, MedChi said.

A spokesman for the University of Maryland System said each individual campus in the system sets its own vaccine policy.

“The health and safety of our students is of the highest priority,” the system said in a statement. “We are sure that each campus will review these recommendations carefully as each formulates its health program.”

Meningitis B has symptoms similar to the flu in the early stages, but can cause brain damage, limb loss and death in six in 10 young adults, MedChi said.

MedChi’s request comes as some have criticized drug makers for scaring parents into getting an expensive vaccine for a disease that affects few people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated fewer than 300 cases of meningitis B occur in the United States each year.

But MedChi, which advises the university system on vaccine issues, and other groups insist students are being put in danger.

MedChi was among several health advocates to send letters to Big Ten colleges and universities urging coverage of the vaccine.

Indiana University and Purdue University — both Big Ten schools — recently unveiled new policies requiring the vaccine.

Most universities require the meningitis conjugate vaccine, but it only protects against the A, C, W and Y strains of the disease.

That’s not enough, said the advocates in their letter to Big Ten schools.

“The B strain accounts for 50 percent of all meningococcal cases in the U.S. and 100 percent of the college outbreaks since 2011,” they said in the letter.

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