Santa Clara Student Got Meningitis Despite New Vaccine

Misha Hindery, 18. is one of three Santa Clara University students sickened by meningococcal disease. It often strikes young, healthy people. Hindery is on the Santa Clara crew team. (Courtesy Penny Nelson)

Sometimes the story comes to you.

One of the three students sickened in last week’s meningococcal disease outbreak at Santa Clara University is the son of Penny Nelson, who works with me at KQED News. What’s especially interesting about his case is that he had received a new vaccine against the illness, yet still got sick.

Backing up a bit, the outbreak was caused by Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B, an especially serious infection. All three students now have been discharged from the hospital in good condition. Two of them, including Nelson’s son, Misha Hindery, were treated for meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. A third student had septicemia, a bloodstream infection.

The disease is fatal in 10-15 percent of cases, and many others lose a limb or suffer brain damage.

Nelson knew how serious a disease it could be. A few years ago, a friend’s daughter contracted a serogroup B infection at college and died within days, despite aggressive medical treatment.

When Nelson found out her son was in the hospital, she says she got there as fast as she could. “I was so frightened. I just couldn’t believe it. … I sat there and read about it, and that frightened me even more.”

The chief symptoms are sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck.

After Misha was released, Nelson contacted his primary care doctor, who confirmed that Misha had received both doses of Bexsero. The vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a year ago, under an accelerated process, says Dr. Cody Meissner, a pediatrics professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and consultant to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, which recommends vaccine guidelines to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is intended for people ages 10 to 25.

The vaccine was developed in a new way, a “terrific accomplishment” technologically, Meissner said. But because of the shortened approval process, much is not known about it. “We don’t know if it impacts herd immunity,” he says, in reference to vaccinating enough of a population to keep a disease that crops up from spreading. “We don’t know how long immunity lasts. Is it a few years? Five years? Ten years?”

Bexsero and a second vaccine, Trumenba, cover most — but not all — strains of bacteria within the serogroup B. It’s possible Misha was infected with a strain that is not included in the vaccine. Meissner said there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that the vaccine makes the course of the disease less severe, if someone does become infected.

And while meningococcal group B infections are rare — just 160 cases in 2012 — they can be devastating, often striking young, healthy people. Nelson’s son rows crew and was a member of an eight-man boat that won a national title last year.

Public health officials are now watching to see how the vaccine performs, says Dr. James Watt with the California Department of Public Health.

“These vaccines have been used in outbreaks,” he said. “They have appeared to have an impact, so that’s good news.” Together with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, Santa Clara University ran four vaccine clinics, ending Monday. Nearly 5,000 of the university’s 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students received the first dose.

Penny Nelson with her son, Misha. He is recovering from bacterial meningitis.
Penny Nelson with her son, Misha. He is recovering from bacterial meningitis. (Courtesy: Penny Nelson)

The California Department of Public Health will provide 5,000 doses next month, when students will need the final shot in the two-dose series.

The vaccine is not part of the routine immunization schedule for adolescents. Instead, it received a “permissive” recommendation, meaning that doctors can administer it if they feel it is in the best interest of the adolescent. Some people at high risk should be immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including anyone with a damaged or removed spleen, sickle cell anemia or who has a rare immune system condition known as “complement deficiency.”

California follows CDC guidelines, so does not require the vaccine for school-age children. Watt says California colleges and universities set their own vaccine guidelines.

Meanwhile, cases are dropping. In the late 1990s, there were 1-2 cases per 100,000 people. Now it’s 0.1 per 100,000. “Meningococcal disease is disappearing in the U.S.,” Meissner says. “No one knows why.”

On top of everything else, this vaccine is expensive, more than $300 for the series. Meissner published an analysis in Monday’s JAMA spotlighting the challenges of providing such an expensive vaccine for such a rare disease. As many as 350,000 adolescents would need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of disease, he wrote.

“This vaccine is 25 times higher [in cost] than any other vaccine,” he told me.

“Is this the way we want to be spending scarce funds for public health?”

Santa Clara Student Got Meningitis Despite New Vaccine 11 February,2016Lisa Aliferis

  • dkkk

    testing sorry

  • H. Miller

    FDA granted an accelerated approval? If only… And as for our not knowing much about the vaccine, it had been available in a number of other countries long before it was approved here. See

  • mrhdiver

    Is it time for plan B? High dose vitamin C (upwards of 25 grams 2x day), bentonite clay and colloidal silver? Instead of toxic injections.

  • nemtim

    So if it doesn’t work and it’s known to have potential deadly side effects, why are we giving this vaccine?

  • Tim Lundeen

    Why don’t they treat with high-dose intravenous Vitamin C? We’ve known for over 50 years that this is effective and safe.

  • Beth

    How long after the vaccination did Misha get sick? It’s important for people to realize that because of live virus’ in vaccines, people often get sick by the very virus’ that they are trying to protect themselves from. Even more important, like in Misha’s case, the victim can be strong and healthy, which may delay the infection. It can be a slow deterioration of the immune system. His blood/brain barrier broken down, then the invader cells attacking healthy cells over and over and over… and then all of sudden Penny’s healthy son is in the hospital.

  • ione murphy

    Pneumonia, Meningitis Evolving To Evade Vaccines
    (Excerpts): “…these life-threatening pathogens are capable of evolving rapidly and developing genetic decoys that serve to disguise them from even the most powerful drugs………..Bowden found that the pathogen switched genetic material with other bacteria, but predominantly for the part of the genome responsible for making the cell coating, which is the area targeted by the vaccine.” source Vaccine News daily

  • dmprisk

    Primal Panacea by Thomas Levy, M.D in his book this is for Encephalitis. A lethargic, stuporous 8 yr. old boy was treated with 2,000mg of I.V vitamin C. After 4 days of symptoms resulting from viral encephalitis following the mumps. 2 Hours after the injection his appetite and energy returned. after 6 hours symptoms began to return. More C was administered both by injection and orally. The child made a full recovery. A case of viral pneumonia progressed to encephalitis in a 28 yr ol woman. After 14 days and treatment with 3 different antibiotics her initial condition was worsening. With an axial Temperature of 106.8 and in a stuporous condition. Injections of 4,000mg of vitamin C were administered every 2-3 hours. After 72 hours clinical symptoms were gone. Many patients recover from comatose encephalitis upon rigorous intravenous vitamin C treatment. I tell everyone to remember if unconscious you have to do I.V vitamin C. If they can swallow on their own, then Liposomal your vitamin C. Make it yourself, it’s very easy, inexpensive and it will be fresh.

  • guest

    Go over to:
    There are only 7 studies on Bexsero and Trumenba.
    Guess who the study group is going to be. The kids.

    was just approved in January after the ———-Disney False Flag which
    terrorized the uninformed so this was going to be a shoe in. There are 7
    studies-3 completed. One study was complete in 2007 which means it was
    on the back burner waiting for an opportunity and the other two were
    completed, 1- in March and the other in April of this year. Surprise!!!!
    For those who aren’t following:
    Bexsero was approved for distribution in JANUARY 2015
    The study on Bexsero was completed, 1 in MARCH 2015 and the other in APRIL 2015.

    Something is clearly wrong with this.

    Bexsero Meningococcal Group B
    Recombinant Neisseria meningitidis group B NHBA/NadA/fHbp proteins
    Outer membrane vesicles (OMV) from Neisseria meningitidis group B strain NZ98/254
    Aluminium hydroxide
    Sodium chloride Histidine Sucrose Water for injections

    has not been approved. Experimental Vaccines has some good information
    on meningitis vaccines: http://experimentalvaccines (dot)

  • LaurenAyers

    I wonder if it ever occurs to reporter Penny Nelson that maybe I.F.Stone (a leading investigative reporter of the last century) was right: “Governments lie.” I wonder if she will someday look beneath the surface of the CDC after her personal experience with their failings. Did she hear that RFK, Jr., whose work with the Natural Resource Council Defense Council educated him about heavy metals, says the CDC is corrupt? (Note that KQED gave zero coverage to his talks on the steps of the state assembly in Sacramento and his talk at the Commonwealth Club, which unlike so many other CC talks, was not broadcast on KQED.) It is stories like this that eventually build a critical mass and the truth finally is revealed. Her son would have been protected from his health crisis if some journalist had followed the trail of facts.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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