CORVALLIS, Ore. - The students at the University of Oregon are facing a rare health emergency that's led the Center for Disease Control to call for a meningitis vaccine for the entire student body - and the pharmacy students at Oregon State University are helping to answer the call.
Next week, on March 2-5, up to 40 pharmacy students at OSU will journey to the University of Oregon in Eugene to assist in a mass vaccination effort designed to help protect the health of their fellow Oregon college students.
The program will be organized and supervised by Safeway pharmacists, who have the contract to administer the vaccine, which may cost $7 million or more before 20,000 students are vaccinated in a three-dose regimen. The unusual and aggressive public health response was decided when the CDC declared a meningitis outbreak after four UO students acquired this disease since January, and one died.
"Meningitis is fairly rare and difficult to transmit, usually requiring hours of close contact," said Lorinda Anderson, an OSU faculty member who manages the immunization initiatives for the College of Pharmacy. "But it's a serious disease, it can be fatal, and the close confines of a school are one of the situations in which it has to be taken very seriously."
Vaccines will be offered from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Matthew Knight Arena on the UO campus next Monday through Thursday, with OSU students assisting other pharmacists in the program. Vaccine will be made available to all UO undergraduate students. More information is available online at http://bit.ly/1LsEFnR
It's unusual for such large numbers of people to need vaccinations in such a short time, Anderson said.
"This is a unique opportunity to help our friends at the University of Oregon, working with other members of the Eugene medical community," Anderson said. "Giving vaccinations has become a common part of the training for pharmacists, and it's rewarding that we're able to assist in this situation. The need for mass vaccinations such as this is really quite rare, and we're glad we can help."
The meningitis vaccine being used is fairly new, Anderson said, and designed for people ranging in age from 10 to 25. Meningitis is most common in young adults such as those of college age. Efforts will be made to bill insurance programs for the vaccine when possible, she said.
The vaccine itself is generally safe, Anderson said, similar in terms of side effects to the influenza vaccine. The most common side effects are reactions at the injection site. This new vaccine is not available to the general public, and there have been no reported cases of meningitis recently in the Eugene area beyond the university campus.
People who are infected with meningitis have about a 10 percent chance of it causing inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, Anderson said, where it can cause the most serious problems. It's treatable with antibiotics, especially if treatment is begun early enough.
Sequential doses of the vaccine will be necessary at two and six months, Anderson said, and plans for those vaccinations in Eugene have not yet been made.
There have been no recent cases of meningitis at OSU, and no mass vaccination programs are planned there. However, vaccines are available to OSU students through Student Health Services. More information is available online at http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/
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Lorinda Anderson, 541-737-313