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Thousands of students show up to get free vaccinations

8:56 AM, Nov 6, 2010   |    comments
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Thompson said he had viral meningitis two years ago.

"I was really delirious," he said.

With the thoughts of CSU student Christina Adame and three local hockey players lost to invasive bacterial meningococcal disease still lingering among many on campus, about 7,000 students lined up to receive the vaccine free of charge on Friday, making it one of the largest mass vaccination clinics ever conducted in Colorado.

Friday's huge demand for the meningococcal vaccine inspired public health officials to hold a second clinic for CSU students and faculty under age 30 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday.

In only six days, state and county public health officials marshaled 330 volunteers from 20 counties to conduct the clinic, which was orchestrated with few hitches Friday, said Anne Hudgens, director of the CSU Health Network.

Each minute during the clinic, 14 people received meningococcal vaccinations. Each hour, 888 inoculations were administered.

Public health officials said they weren't sure if the clinic was the largest single-day mass vaccination clinic in the state's history, but it was the largest in recent memory.

The meningococcal vaccine clinic eclipsed the size of the H1N1 flu inoculation clinics held throughout the state last year, most of which administered several thousand shots, said Joni Reynolds, director of immunizations for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"This clinic is a different target," she said.

The clinic was targeted to CSU students, faculty, staff and family members between the ages of 2 and 30 in attempt to create mass immunity to the meningococcal disease in the face of an outbreak of the bacteria in Larimer County. The bacteria infect children, teens and college students more than anyone else.

"I'm not getting a vaccine, but my 17-year-old son is getting it this afternoon," Hudgens said.

Students are more vulnerable to meningococcal disease because they are more likely to exchange saliva via kissing and shared food, utensils and smoking.

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria and is unrelated to viral illnesses, such as West Nile virus, which also can cause a form of meningitis.

Even though one of the hockey players who died of meningococcal disease was in his 50s, younger people are more likely to become ill from the bacteria.

Reynolds said the state encourages older adults to get the vaccine, too, but they should get the vaccine through their physician or other means.

Some local pharmacies were selling the vaccine for upwards of $120 per shot late last month.

"We're trying to remove barriers so we can vaccinate as many" of the most vulnerable people at CSU as possible, Reynolds said.

But even as thousands of students lined up to get their shot, many said they weren't afraid of contracting meningococcal disease, which causes both bacterial meningitis and sepsis.

"I didn't really have any fears," freshman Stephen Troup said. "It's just precautionary. I have good habits."

Senior Rachel Dembrun said she was motivated to get the vaccine Friday because it was free and she hadn't been vaccinated for meningococcal disease in about four years.

"I didn't really have a high fear of getting the disease," she said. "Better safe than sorry."

But senior David Wolfson said he wanted the vaccine because his roommate is a hockey referee.

"Just getting meningitis would be one of the scariest things in the world," and he particularly fears "the imminent threat of death" that comes with contracting meningococcal disease, he said.

CSU alumnus Matthew O. Burt, the son of a CSU staff member, said his mother urged him to get the vaccine.

"I had a friend who had spinal meningitis" related to West Nile virus, he said. "It was horrible."

The next vaccination clinic will be on Thursday at the Student Recreation Center. Registration is available now at www.safety.colostate.edu.

This story written by Bobby Magill, Fort Collins Coloradoan.

(Copyright © 2010 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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