By Holly Ramer
CONCORD, N.H.—Federal health officials, trying to determine whether to recommend that young children be vaccinated for the rare but often deadly bacterial meningitis, heard Wednesday from parents both for and against the vaccine.
The public meeting in New Hampshire was the first of four the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is holding around the country to gather information that might shape the decision-making process, said Glen Nowak of the CDC’s immunization and respiratory diseases division.
“We have not done this before for this kind of issue, so this is going to be a learning experience for CDC,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a meningitis vaccine for babies as young as 9 months. Doctors can order it, but insurance companies are unlikely to cover the cost unless the CDC recommends it, as the federal agency does for children ages 11-18.
Children under age 5 account for about 250 of the 1,000 cases of meningitis in the United States each year, and about 30 of those children die, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s meningitis and vaccine preventable diseases office, said. A small percentage of the survivors experience significant medical problems, including seizures, hearing loss and amputated limbs.
Messonnier estimated that a vaccine would prevent about 75 of the 250 cases in young children.