A letter from RFK Jr: the meningitis vaccine may sicken 12,000 and kill 36 in CO

 RFK jr
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr (June 2015)
This past Thursday, the University of Colorado-Boulder student government passed a resolution asking the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend meningococcal vaccines for all incoming college students. ACIP will consider CU-Boulder’s resolution on June 24. ACIP’s first agenda topic will be the debate over recommending the meningococcal B vaccines for adolescents and college students.

With billions of dollars in annual revenue at stake, vaccine makers are pushing meningitis vaccine mandates across the country. Vaccine issues are always complex, but advocates of the meningitis mandate should consider some simple math.

Meningococcal meningitis is exceedingly rare. There were only about 390 cases in the U.S. last year. In a population of 319 million, that adds up to one case in 817,949 people. There were only three meningococcal meningitis cases in Colorado last year — one resulting in death. The CDC has approved three vaccines targeting the A, C, Y and W135 strains of meningitis: Menactra, Menveo and Menomune, which still contains significant mercury concentrations in multi-dose vials. These vaccines are effective in providing immunity to those strains of meningitis in only 85 percent of people who receive them.

Thirty percent of the meningitis cases are the B strain, which typically occur in college-aged kids and against which the three vaccines are completely ineffective.

The FDA recently approved two B strain meningococcal vaccines, Trumenba and Bexsero.Vaccine makers are pushing government officials to add them to the recommended schedule for the fall semester. Critics have faulted the government’s expedited safety and efficiency testing for the new B strain vaccines citing glaring lapses in safety protocols including the absence of inactive placebos. In addition, both new B vaccines are “pregnancy category B,” meaning that they should be administered to pregnant women only when necessary. Neither vaccine has been tested for carcinogenicity, mutagenicity or effects on male fertility.

According to their package inserts, Menactra and Menveo produce “serious adverse events” in 1 percent of recipients. Menomune, with its hefty mercury load, sickens 1.3 percent of those receiving it. According to the CDC Pink Book, 0.3 percent of those with “serious adverse events” from meningitis vaccines will die. So here is the math calculation that thoughtful student governments in Colorado must consider: If you inoculate Colorado’s 400,000 college students with the older vaccines, you can expect 4,000 serious adverse events and 12 dead. We do not yet know the effects of widespread vaccination of the hastily-expedited B vaccines, but according to their package inserts, about 2 percent of students who receive the B vaccine will be sickened or hospitalized with a serious adverse event.

This could translate into an additional 8,000 sick students and 24 deaths, for a total of 12,000 sick and 36 dead in the attempt to possibly avert three meningitis cases.

The budgetary issues are significant. Administering Bexsero will cost an estimated $320 per student according to the CDC vaccine price list. For Colorado’s 400,000 students, the cost for the B vaccine alone would be $128 million annually.

Vaccine makers stand to make over a billion dollars annually if they can persuade the ACIP to add their meningitis vaccines to the national schedule. While there is huge corporate incentive to get these vaccines mandated in the Colorado higher education system, the costs of this mandate, in both dollars and students’ lives, are sobering. The calculation could make sense only to cold-blooded bean counters at the companies marketing these vaccines and to politicians who have collected those companies’ “contributions.”

Student governments may have reasonably relied on information from the CDC when they advanced the original resolution. However, the CDC’s vaccine division has been plagued with a series of recent scandals. Four scathing federal investigations have criticized the agency — ACIP in particular — for shoddy science and corrupt conflicts of interest with vaccine manufacturers. The current recommendation to vaccinate students only if a case has been verified makes more sense than a universal mandate — except for those who are more concerned with pharma profits than students’ health.

There is no question that meningococcal meningitis is a serious disease that can cause death and disability, but we need to ensure that the solution is not worse than the problem. There is every reason to believe that mandatory meningococcal B vaccines for every college student could kill more students than the disease they protect against. Before we relinquish our rights, pay millions and sicken students, we should do the math.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is senior attorney for NRDC, the nation’s largest environmental group, founder and president of Waterkeeper Alliance and a professor of environmental litigation at Pace University Law School in White Plains, N.Y. He is the author of “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak,” a book about vaccine safety.

{This letter was originally published in June of 2015 in the Daily Camera.  Ordinarily I would not post the content of another site, but since RFK Jr. has quoted my writing in the speech he gave in Sacramento, I figure that makes us buds. Also, I felt bad that his brilliant letter didn’t get the exposure it should have in the newspaper.}

One thought on “A letter from RFK Jr: the meningitis vaccine may sicken 12,000 and kill 36 in CO

  1. “Before we relinquish our rights, pay millions and sicken students, we should do the math.” YES!!!! I want to see the maths. Every vaccine decision I have ever made included a risk/benefit analysis determined by questioning my doctor on the disease for which the vaccine was offered. One would hope that there exists SOMEWHERE an equation which quantifies the point at which a vaccine provides more benefit than harm to the individual and to the greater population. I WANT TO SEE THE MATH used to determine whether to add a vaccine to the schedule or mandate it at the state level. SHOW ME THE MATH!!!!! (And, I am not talking about the math that leads to a fat bottom line or legislator’s fat wallet.)


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