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3 deaths spur meningitis vaccine call

The recent deaths of three children has caused a rush on meningitis vaccines and led the governor to plan to set up inoculation clinics in schools across the state.

Three children from different communities have died since Jan. 12 after apparent bouts with meningitis. The most recent was Monday, when a 5-year-old boy died.Because children are falling ill with the bacterial infection at increasing rates, state Health Director Patricia Nolan has recommended that 250,000 state residents between the ages of 2 and 22 be vaccinated.

But the vaccine is in short supply, and doctors' offices have repeatedly run out as Rhode Islanders hurry to get their children inoculated.

Nolan said 100,000 doses of the meningitis vaccine would arrive in Rhode Island Friday, supplementing 60,000 doses already in the state.

She has said there is no outbreak, only sporadic cases of meningitis in the state, and the rush to inoculate is unnecessary.

But in an attempt to quell what Nolan called the "panic" over meningitis, state officials plan a televised town meeting Friday night to discuss the disease.

Gov. Lincoln Almond said Thursday he wants to set up meningitis clinics in schools across Rhode Island for a more orderly way to carry out the inoculation. The first school-based clinics could open next week.

The plan runs counter to federal guidelines, which say routine vaccination in communities without an outbreak is not worthwhile because the vaccine is not effective in children under age 2 and because each dose is effective for only three to five years.

"We have decided to be abundantly cautious. We may be doing this all for nothing. We don't know," Almond said. He defended the $1.5 million cost, saying children's lives are invaluable.