On its first day, Temple University’s free vaccine clinic delivered 2,285 doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to students and faculty in the wake of a campus mumps outbreak that has sickened 106 people.
The clinic comes two months after the initial case — thought to have been contracted outside the area and brought on to campus — was reported. Since then, individual cases have popped up on other campuses. On Wednesday, the University of Pennsylvania reported its first case: an undergraduate student living off campus. Officials said it was not connected to the Temple outbreak.
Public health experts say a vaccine clinic should be one of the first steps a university takes to stop an outbreak.
“You should have this at the ready,” said Rupali J. Limaye, an associate director at the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s in the university’s best interest to immediately set up vaccination clinics.”
The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, so the sooner universities start vaccinating students, the better chance they have at limiting spread, Limaye said.
Mumps is a contagious viral disease with symptoms ranging from swollen salivary glands to fever and headache. Although serious complications are rare, especially in people who were vaccinated as children, mumps can cause inflammation of the brain, deafness, or sterility.
It’s typically spread through saliva in shared food or drink — making college campuses, where many students live together, particularly vulnerable.
The demand at Wednesday’s clinic far exceeded the 1,800 doses officials were expecting to deliver. Steven Alles, director of disease control for the Philadelphia health department, said this will help inform how many vaccines they order for the next free clinic, which will take place Friday in Mitten Hall’s Great Court from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Vaccines are being offered for free to all Temple students, faculty, and staff.
Mark Denys, director of Temple’s student and employee health services, said his team spent the early weeks of the outbreak focusing on isolating infected individuals and getting booster shots to people in close contact with them.
But as the outbreak continued to grow — about five additional cases are reported each day, Denys said — they decided opening a vaccine clinic was necessary.
The clinic at Temple was run by 55 staff from the school and the Philadelphia Public Health Department.
At times, the line outside the clinic snaked down the block with dozens of students filling out paperwork to prepare for the shot.
Most students had received the MMR vaccine as children, but were eager to get the booster for extra protection. Research has shown the vaccine loses strength over time.
“It’d be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Zareen Johnson, a junior.
Amrit Kaur, a senior who lives in the city with her family, said she hasn’t had any symptoms but is worried about spreading mumps from campus to her home. Her brother has diabetes, so he’s more susceptible to developing infections.
“I’ve been going home late the last several weeks,” Kaur said. “I’m trying to limit contact, not share anything with them just in case.”
Getting the vaccine gave her a sense of relief, she said.
Freshman Karsten Noziere felt the same way. Being in elevators with people who were coughing and sneezing the last few weeks has made him worry he might have been exposed. “Hearing about all the cases, I figured I might as well get the booster,” Noziere said.
As of Tuesday, the Philadelphia health department reported 18 confirmed cases of mumps and 88 probable cases. Most are at Temple, but a handful are in surrounding counties. West Chester University and Drexel University have also reported one case each. Those cases have all been linked to Temple, Alles said.
Although city health officials said they’ve most likely identified “Patient Zero” — the person who started the outbreak — they have not provided any details about the person’s vaccination status.
None of those infected have been hospitalized.
Students said rumors were circulating around campus about who had been infected or exposed, but for the most part, there was little panic about the situation.
Sophomore Mackenzi Hockensmith said she received an email from student health services informing her that she’d been exposed to the virus and should get the booster shot.
“They’ve mostly done a good job of making us calm,” she said of the university’s response.
But she wished updated case numbers were sent out more frequently so she didn’t find herself having to Google information about the outbreak.
Freshman Alex Lucke said she’d decided not to visit a fraternity after learning from campus officials that mumps can easily be spread at parties through shared drinks and snacks.
Although mumps cases in the United States have declined by 99 percent since the vaccine was introduced in 1967, there’s been a resurgence in recent years driven by college students.
In 2016, outbreaks at universities in Iowa and Illinois affected several hundred students. In 2017, Pennsylvania State University had an outbreak of more than 40 cases.
Researchers at Harvard University have suggested requiring mumps booster shots might help protect students as they enter college.
As of now, the CDC recommends a third dose only during an outbreak such as the one at Temple.
Since the outbreak, Temple announced a new policy that will require all incoming freshmen to be up to date on the MMR vaccination series, as well as the chicken pox, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines. Previously, the university did not require immunizations for admitted or enrolled students.
“That will make a large difference,” said Laura Siminoff, dean of Temple’s College of Public Health.
Many universities already require vaccinations, and there’s nothing preventing others from enacting such rules, she said. “It’s probably an oversight when a university doesn’t.”