CDC holds Chicago forum on meningitis vaccines

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently held a forum in Chicago to listen to opinions on whether the federal government should require babies to be vaccinated for meningitis.

Mediators were sent to the debate as part of an effort to keep the conversation at the forum civil in tone, a clear sign that the issue elicits passionate opinions, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The CDC currently recommends the meningitis vaccine for children between the ages of 11 and 18. Bacterial meningitis is considered rare in the United States, but it is potentially fatal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the vaccine for babies as young as nine months, and now federal officials are considering adding it to the 16 immunizations already on the CDC’s recommendation schedule.

In recent years, additions to the CDC’s vaccine schedule have been met with outrage from a small and dedicated group of mostly parents who say vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are designed to protect against.

Scientific studies have failed to produce data that supports the parents’ claim, but the parents continue to be vocal about their concerns, the Chicago Tribune reports. The influence of these groups has lead to large clusters of unvaccinated children, causing anxiety among specialists who worry that rare childhood diseases might resurface.

The situation has made introducing a new recommendation a sensitive event, prompting the CDC to hold a series of forums to gather public input. The recent forum in Chicago is the third of four public inquiries scheduled concerning the meningitis vaccine.

"The CDC has never done this before," Glen Nowak, the senior adviser for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said, The Chicago Tribune reports. "We've done public education about pandemics and vaccines, but now we're talking about who should get this vaccine. We're trying to see, Are people skeptical? Or do they think this is a good idea, and why?"