Only six Santa Clara County nurses handing out shots
John Flynn and Sophie Mattson
THE SANTA CLARA
February 4, 2016
Today, students waited in a line that stretched from the back of the library to the Leavey Center. Once they reached the gym, they were shuttled to the bottom row of the bleachers. Every 10-15 minutes, the top row was escorted to another 50-deep line that finally led to curtained cubicles where they received meningitis vaccination shots. After the shot, they passed by a table of moist muffins in front of the exit.
“Having one line for a 9,000 person student body isn’t the most efficient idea,” said senior Chris Rotas. “But I won’t complain. It’s free. And I knew one of the kids who got it, so that’s what I’m doing here. I want to play it safe.”
The student population was mobilized to receive free meningitis vaccinations after three first year male students fell ill with invasive meningococcal disease on Sunday, Jan. 31. One student is confirmed to have meningitis, an infection of the protective membrane covering the brain and spinal cord, while another student is ill with meningococcemia, a bloodstream infection.
So far, it has not been released whether or not the third ill student is sick with meningitis or meningococcemia. According to a Santa Clara County Public Health Department press release, two students remain hospitalized as of Feb.4 and both are in fair condition, while a third student was discharged in good condition.
Today, 1,500 students over six hours received the Bexsero® vaccination, which was FDA approved in 2015 and is administered to people aged 10 through 25. It protects against the type of bacteria that sickened the three first years—the serogroup B strain.
Students must get this vaccine to be protected, since the meningitis vaccine that most students receive prior to their first year does not protect against disease caused by this strain of bacteria. But the vaccination was so popular that students arriving after 7 p.m. were turned away because there was still an hour’s worth of students that needed that vaccination.
The shots are being administered by six nurses from Santa Clara County that are aided by 98 volunteers from the Santa Clara Community. Despite this turn out, wait times averaged over two hours to get the magical prick.
“That’s the bottleneck, we only have nurses from the county,” said University President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. “The county supervisor told us we have to use the county’s operations. (But) everybody stepped up. I’ve been having two-a-day meetings for the planning of this. So that slowed things down, but we’re doing the best that we can and these folks have been terrific.”
The gym speakers pumped Felix Jaehn’s remix of “Cheerleader” and there were ample chips and granola bars to tide over the appetites of the somewhat bored student population. But during my two hours of waiting, a persistent thought arose: if Santa Clara plans to only hold free vaccination clinics for meningitis on Thursday and Friday, there might not be enough for every student that wants protection from the deadly spinal disease.
If the rate of 250 people per hour holds, 1,750 people will receive the vaccination tomorrow, equaling 3,250 total over two days—a solid figure, but only a little over one third of the total Santa Clara population. Complicating things further, the vaccine doesn’t fully kick in for another two weeks and students need to return for another shot in a month to be fully protected from the disease.
Still, the potentially insufficient efforts are necessary, and fairly impressive, considering the limited resources the County has given the school. Plus, turnout proved to be far larger than anyone could have expected, considering the ho-hum attendance of school-sponsored yearly flu vaccination clinics—a disease that kills roughly 72 times more people than meningitis every year.
The high turnout could be owed to the WWII-referencing poster plastered around campus. Channeling Uncle Sam, Bucky tells students he wants them to get vaccinated. Outreach efforts, rumbling peer pressure and the gruesome reputation of meningitis prompted even reluctant people to brave the mammoth lines and roll up their sleeves.
“I don’t see myself at high risk because I hadn’t had contact with these people,” said junior Melene Agakanian. “I live off campus—dark side—so the likelihood of me getting into contact is not very high. But everyone was like, ‘No you should get it just in case.’ And then my mom texted me, and I was like, ‘Ugh fine, Mom.’ So now I’m here.”
Contact John Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852. Follow him on Twitter @nicecoolfriend.