INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Two of the state’s biggest universities are taking a strong stance to protect students from a deadly disease.
Purdue University and Indiana University announced starting this fall, incoming students at all of their campuses will be required to receive the meningitis B vaccine.
The meningitis vaccine is a part of the list of vaccinations, but it doesn’t include the B strain.
Meningitis B makes up for 50% of all meningococcal cases in the U.S. and 100% of college outbreaks since 2011. In Indiana, 70% of meningitis cases are actually caused by meningitis B. To be fully protected against the five most common types of the disease, students are encouraged to get both the MenACWY and MenB vaccinations.
“My sister passed away 30 years ago from meningitis B very quickly and very suddenly,” Dr. Karla Loken said.
That life-changing day fueled Loken’s passion for medicine and her push to keep more families from experiencing what her family did. She lost her 16-year-old sister just 15 hours after she showed her first symptoms.
“It can mimic the flu and signs and symptoms. So high fevers, stiff neck, headache, rashes and it can progress to being a deadly disease very quickly,” Loken said.
Meningitis is a bacterial infection that attacks the brain and spinal cord. Loken, who works closely with the Indiana Immunization Coalition, says for Purdue and IU to require the vaccine for all incoming students this fall sends a strong message.
College campuses are poised for outbreaks with close quartered living, sharing utensils and kissing. She says prevention before college is key.
“If your child gets sick with this disease and dies and you’re in the emergency room and the doctor comes back and says this is what they died of or this is what we think it is and I’m so sorry it was vaccine preventable, you would never feel worse,” Loken said.
Starting with 16 year olds, even if your child has been vaccinated, chances are it didn’t include type B. The B vaccine is separate and just became available in 2014.
“Come full circle for me as a parent of teenagers now to be able to protect my own children from something that took my sister from me,” Loken said.
She’ll continue to advocate for the vaccine and share her story with a 1,000 physicians during a webinar this week. The hope is more universities and parents will take action. This comes just two days after her sister’s birthday.
“I think it would make her really proud. I think she’d be pretty proud of me,” she said.
For anti-vaccination parents, Loken says her only goal is to educate parents and get the word out. To get the B-strain vaccine, contact your doctor or local health department.