- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - The mass vaccination of University of Oregon students against a blood-stream infection that killed one student and has sickened three others got off to a slow start.

A total of 770 University of Oregon students received shots at Matthew Knight Arena on Monday, the first day of a four-day clinic that aims to vaccinate thousands against a form of meningitis, called meningococcemia.

It is the largest population to use the vaccine called Trumenba, the Eugene Register-Guard (https://bit.ly/1DEBR2E) reported. The vaccine was developed by Pfizer and received accelerated approval in October from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Public health officials have recommended that the university vaccinate nearly 22,000 people: all undergraduates, as well as graduate students and faculty who live on campus or have compromised immune systems.

But the university had reached less than 20 percent of that target as of Monday, including students who earlier got the vaccine at the university’s Health Center or at small-scale clinics last week at the basketball arena. The tally doesn’t include students who got the vaccine at local pharmacies.

“It’s a long campaign,” university spokeswoman Jen McCulley said.

McCulley said she expects a gradual buildup of students through the remaining three days of the clinic. After that, the vaccine will be available at the Health Center and pharmacies, she said.

Molly Andersen, a 21-year-old junior studying music technology, said she got vaccinated because she had attended a high school where a student died of the bacterial disease a year ago.

Once a death was reported on campus, she said, “That kind of alerted everyone to how serious it was because before then, it was some kids who went to the hospital.”

The mass vaccination followed a marketing push by the university through posters, stickers, a website and social media. One online poster featured adhesive bandages in the school’s green and yellow colors, with its “O” symbol at the center.

The students also must get two follow-up doses, so the university is scheduling clinics in May and September.

“We think it’s really important that students complete the series,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director for the Oregon Health Authority’s public health division. “The vaccine is really new. We don’t have a lot of data on how well it works.”

State and federal public health officials took throat swabs of students who volunteered at the clinic in an effort to learn how many students are carrying the bacteria and to better learn how effective Trumenba is at stopping its spread.

Once spread through kissing, sharing utensils or cups or by having prolonged close contact, the bacteria can lie dormant in the nose and throat of an infected individual for up to two weeks before dissipating or going on the attack.

Once the latter occurs, however, a full-scale infection can kill in as little as 24 hours.

Health officials say the bacteria are far less likely to spread outside the close confines of a university campus populated by thousands of young adults.

“In general, the risk to Oregonians, including those in Eugene outside the campus, appears to be very, very low, and the vaccination is not recommended,” Cieslak said.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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