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Students must get meningococcal vaccine, officials say

For the first time, students in seventh through 12th grades won’t get into school without it next month — the meningococcal vaccine.

The vaccine is not new, but a state law passed last year now requires the immunization against the potentially deadly disease by Sept. 1.

“Immunizations are among the safest and most cost-effective ways to prevent disease,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a reminder issued Thursday with the county health commissioner. “They not only protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities, which is why we want everyone who is not up to date on their immunizations to obtain them as soon as possible, especially the children who need the meningococcal vaccine.”

Meningitis is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, which 10 percent of people have in the back of their nose and throat with no signs of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But in some people, the bacteria invades the body and is spread through spit or exchange of saliva, including through kissing. The symptoms can appear suddenly or within seven days of exposure, including fever, nausea, confusion, stiff neck and vomiting. The bacteria invades the membrane around the brain and spinal cord, and death can occur in a few hours.

The disease kills 10 to 15 out of every 100 people infected, the CDC said, and about 11 to 19 of every 100 survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as deafness, brain damage or nervous system problems.

“Over the years, vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated poliovirus in the United States and significantly reduced the number of reported cases of measles, diphtheria and rubella,” said Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken. “But not everyone is up to date on their immunizations.”

People who have no insurance or who are underinsured may contact the Suffolk County Shots for Tots program, also known as the Immunization Action Plan (IAP). Immunizations are available for children on specific dates. Learn more at


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