GSK’s message to college-bound kids and their parents: Get meningitis B vaccine

With college prep underway, GSK debuts an awareness campaign for meningitis B, which can spread among cohabiting college students. (Eric Sagonowsky)

In the midst of high school graduations, GlaxoSmithKline wants students and parents to look ahead.

There’s more to do than packing for college. the drugmaker says in a new awareness campaign. What else should be on the to-do list? Get meningitis B vaccinations before leaving for school.

The new ad campaign uses an animation style that's meant to grab attention while balancing the serious and potentially scary consequences of meningitis B, GSK says. It started running on TV and in print, digital, in-office and social media last month.

The TV ad shows a cartoon mom sending her son off to college, having packed and prepared him within the last 24 hours and “thinking you’ve done everything for his well-being.”

But dangers may lie ahead, the ad goes on to point out, saying, “[M]eningitis B progresses quickly and can be fatal. Sometimes within 24 hours.” The voiceover recommends that, given the uncommon disease strikes quickly, parents should "be quick to talk to your teen's doctor about a meningitis B vaccine."

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GSK has been promoting MenB vaccinations since 2015, when its branded vaccine Bexsero was approved. The CDC recommends teens and young adults ages 16 to 23 years “may be vaccinated with MenB vaccines to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease.”

Still, awareness of meningitis B remains low. Fewer than 10% of all teenagers have gotten the vaccine, according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“When we ask parents and patients themselves, they don’t know necessarily that there are two different types of vaccines. When they learn about meningococcal disease and how serious it can be, then they go speak to their doctor and they and their doctor make a decision about vaccination,” said Leonard Friedland, M.D., GSK vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health for vaccines in North America. “We’ve learned that when people learn about what this disease is they’re motivated to take some action.”

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College students specifically face a higher risk of meningitis related to the communal and sharing lifestyle many adopt. Targeting their parents was important because college-bound teens still look to them for advice and help when it comes to healthcare, Friedland said.

The other meningitis B vaccine on the market is Pfizer’s Trumenba. GSK leads in market share and reported Bexsero sales of £556 million in 2017, an increase of 43% over £390 million in sales in 2016. Both drugs recently received breakthrough designations to treat children as young as ages 1 or 2.