New law requires students to get meningitis vaccine before starting school



Beginning September 1, all public and private school students entering 7th and 12th grades in New York state will be required to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease in order to attend school, thanks to a new state law.

Meningococcal disease is a rare but dangerous disease that strikes without warning. It can cause meningitis — an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord — and blood infections. Even with treatment, an infection can lead to death within a few hours. In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities can include loss of limbs, hearing loss and brain damage, according to the New York State Department of Health.

“Immunizing children and young adults at these ages is critical to protecting them from this potentially fatal and devastating disease,” said state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “We are fortunate to have a vaccine for meningitis and urge parents to stay on top of their children’s vaccine requirements.”

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is the best protection against the disease, which often affects young people. The disease spreads easily in close quarters such as schools by coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing utensils and cups. The meningococcal vaccine is 85 percent to 100 percent effective at preventing infection with the four types of meningococcal disease that cause the majority of cases in the United States, says the Department of Health.

New York joins 27 other states that currently require meningococcal vaccination for school attendance. Grades 7 and 12 were the grades chosen for the school requirements because they align with the ages at which the first and second doses of the vaccine are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine is also available for teens and young adults 16-23 years of age. But the B strain vaccine is not routinely recommended for all teenagers, so will not be required for school this fall. Rather, it is given to people ages 10 and up who have certain medical conditions. It may be given at the same time as the meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

Combined, both meningococcal vaccines protect against five strains of the disease that cause about 93 percent of cases of meningococcal disease among U.S. teens and adults, as well as nearly all cases of meningococcal disease in other parts of the world.