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Alex Medina
Director of Communications
March 30, 2017

New Study Shows Low Meningitis Vaccination Rates Among Gay and Bisexual Men in Los Angeles

California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers report recommends additional efforts to educate the public and vaccinate individuals who are at risk

Despite a year-long outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease in Southern California primarily affecting gay and bisexual men, less than 27% of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Los Angeles County have been vaccinated against meningitis. The findings, released March 30 by the California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers—a collaboration between UCLA, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and APLA Health—call for more immunization access points throughout Southern California and increased public education about the disease, among other recommendations.

Invasive meningococcal disease is often characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, stiff neck, and confusion, which can lead to rapid septic shock and death if not treated quickly. Vaccination is highly effective and can prevent the disease. The current outbreak in Southern California is the second in the area in recent history. A 2014 meningitis outbreak led to the deaths of three MSM. The current, ongoing outbreak began in March 2016 and to date there have been 27 cases reported in Southern California. A majority of cases have been among MSM, and two have been in people living with HIV. Similar Invasive meningococcal disease outbreaks have also been reported in other metropolitan areas recently, including Chicago and New York City.

The study, titled “Vaccination Response to an Ongoing Meningitis Outbreak: Uptake and Attitudes among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Los Angeles, CA,” surveyed more than 500 MSM from community venues throughout Los Angeles County. Despite the outbreak and vaccination recommendations from the California Department of Public Health, the majority of respondents were not protected against meningitis.

People living with HIV are at particular risk for developing serious health issues if infected with meningitis and are recommended to receive a two-dose primary series of vaccination. The study found, however, that few HIV-positive individuals had received the recommended two doses.

“Primary care doctors who treat men who have sex with men and HIV-positive people should talk to their patients about the ongoing outbreak and make sure they receive the vaccination,” Phil Curtis, director of government affairs at APLA Health, says.

The study praised the efforts of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Immunization Program, which distributed free vaccine to community partners, including APLA Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, but concluded that more needs to be done. Among the recommendations are increased outreach on social media and apps MSM use regularly and in venues such as bars and nightclubs, in addition to educating providers who treat gay and bisexual men.

This study was co-authored by Dr. Ian Holloway, assistant professor in the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs; Elizabeth Wu and Jennifer Gildner of the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center; and Vincent Fenimore and Paula Frew from Emory University.

The full report is available to read at the CHPRC website at

It is also available on the APLA Health website.


APLA Health’s mission is to achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBT and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV. We are a nonprofit, federally qualified health center serving more than 14,000 people annually. We provide 20 different services from 14 locations throughout Los Angeles County, including: medical, dental, and behavioral health care; PrEP counseling and management; health education and HIV prevention; and STD screening and treatment. For people living with HIV, we offer housing support; benefits counseling; home health care; and the Vance North Necessities of Life Program food pantries; among several other critically needed services. Additionally, we are leaders in advocating for policy and legislation that positively impacts the LGBT and HIV communities, provide capacity-building assistance to health departments across the country, and conduct community-based research on issues affecting the communities we serve. For more information, please visit us at