New York State lawmakers have moved to allow pharmacists to administer the Meningitis vaccine in the face of an outbreak of a potentially deadly strain of the disease among the city’s gay men.
There have been 22 cases of severe viral meningitis in New York since 2010 with 17 of those last year, killing seven people, while another man died from the disease in California in April.
‘Allowing pharmacists to administer the meningitis vaccine will help us stop a wider outbreak of this deadly disease which is evolving into a serious public health concern for the NYC LGBT community,’ New York state Senator Brad Hoylman said.
‘The best way to prevent illness and death from meningitis is to be vaccinated. As we've seen with the flu vaccine, when pharmacists have the authority to administer a vaccine, immunization rates increase.’
‘Experts say that this strain of meningitis is so insidious that it could suddenly mushroom into a major outbreak, and an article published just this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that health professionals are urging gay men visiting New York for Pride Month get vaccinated, Hoylman said.
‘In the city, there are numerous anecdotal reports of at-risk men encountering obstacles to getting vaccinated at places like health clinics, hospitals and private doctors’ offices. This legislation will address this deficiency in the health care delivery system.’
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) commissioner Thomas Farley it was vital that barriers to vaccination were removed.
‘Allowing pharmacists to offer vaccination against meningitis will save lives and pave the way for even greater access to vaccinations to fight childhood flu and other communicable diseases,’ Farley said.
The passage of the bill was also welcomed by New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.
‘Passage of this legislation is a tremendous step in our effort to contain the spread this potentially fatal disease,’ Quinn said.
‘Early on in the outbreak, advocates identified access to the meningitis vaccine as a significant obstacle.’
‘Since we have seen an increase in the incidence of bacterial meningitis in this population we want to educate individuals about the importance of preventing the disease,’ Florida interim deputy health secretary said on Wednesday.
‘Individuals in this population, who are traveling to other parts of the country where increases in cases have been reported, should talk to their health care provider.’
Meningitis is not sexually transmitted but can be transmitted by saliva and close contact like kissing, sneezing, coughing or living with an infected person.
Prolonged contact is needed for the virus to spread and symptoms include light sensitivity, neck stiffness, confusion, fever, headaches and vomiting.
Health officials say the severe strain will kill up to 15% of those infected but early treatment should prevent serious complications or death.
Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord.