News of the Day ... In Perspective09/7/2006
Meningococcal vaccine advised or required for college; side effects downplayed
Incoming college students nationwide are being told to take the meningococcal vaccine or else they may not be admitted. Here are some facts about benefits and risks compiled by AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly.
Fewer than 1 in 100,000 persons contract meningococcal meningitis annually in the United States, and 50% of those cases are in infants or children younger than 4 years of age. Of those who do contract the disease, most recover fully. Fewer than 10% of the cases are fatal. There is effective antibiotic prophylaxis for those who know they have been exposed.
The disease is not easily transmitted. The primary method of transmission is by mixing saliva, as in kissing or sharing a cup with an infected person. (Note that carriers may be asymptomatic.) Even then, most people have already been exposed, and are thereby immune, to the disease. Only 5 to 15 college students nationwide die from this; the risk is far smaller than other risks faced by college students.
In September 2005, the FDA announced that five recipients of this vaccine reported serious symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) soon after receiving the vaccine. They were ages 17 and 18, typical for the incoming college freshmen being urged to have this vaccine.
Other adverse reactions after the vaccine are very common. Headache is reported in 41% of recipients; fatigue in 35%; malaise in 24%; and joint pain in 20%. Long-term adverse effects have not been ruled out; no studies following patients for longer than 6 months are reported in the package insert. It is easy to test a vaccine in animals to see whether it causes cancer or infertility, but the package insert expressly states that the “vaccine has not been evaluated in animals for its carcinogenic or mutagenic potentials or for impairment of fertility.”
When potential long-term harm from the vaccine is combined with the known short-term adverse effects, it is quite possible that the vaccine is causing more harm than it is preventing. For a disease that can be largely avoided by not mixing saliva with an infected person, or receiving prompt treatment if one is exposed, the insistence on vaccination rather than education is questionable.
It should be noted that the manufacturer does not even claim that the vaccine is effective against one-third or more of the strains of the meningococcal disease, according to the above package insert. Of the remaining strains, the vaccine provides no guarantee of immunity either. Thus, physicians must not assume that a vaccinated person does not have the disease.
Vaccination information is often more objective from state agencies than from the federal government, because vaccine manufacturers can influence the federal government and distort federal policy more easily than that of all 50 different states. This information from the Illinois Deparment of Health is useful, and supports several of the above facts: http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/hb/hbmenin.htm
Parents and students may not realize that all states have available exemptions to decline this and other vaccines.