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Meningitis Vaccine Important, Even If Not Required

By Christine Vara

It’s August and every where you turn students are preparing to return to school.  College students are often the first ones to return to campus, and today it is not uncommon for students living in dorms to be required to get a meningitis vaccine.  For instance a new Texas law, called the Jamie Schanbaum Act, requires college students who plan to live on campus for the first time to get an immunization against meningitis.  The requirement has been prompted by the fact that college students are at an elevated risk of contracting the disease due to the fact that they often live in small, crowded spaces.  Additionally, they often engage in behaviors such as sharing items, kissing and smoking that can further increase their risk.

But I wondered, why are we protecting only those students living in dorms?  Aren’t students living at home or elsewhere off campus still at risk?  Take Jamie Schanbaum for example.  She was key in advocating for the new Texas law.  She was a healthy 20 year old Texas sophomore living in an off campus apartment when she contracted meningococcemia, the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, which swiftly attacked her bloodstream resulting in the amputation of most of her fingers and the lower half of her legs. 

Another concern pertains to tweens and teens between the ages of 11-18. Statistics indicate that they are also in a high risk category for contracting meningitis, for many of the same reasons as college students.   A recent article in the Denver Post even highlighted the concern for infection amongst adolescent athletes.  Since most team sports require players to spend a lot of time in close contact, the disease, spread through air droplets and direct contact with someone who is infected, has the ability to spread quickly in such conditions.  It is suspected that a June outbreak of meningtitis in Fort Collins, Colorado was spread during a hockey game.  Who would have guessed that the good sportsmanship gesture of a post-game handshake at a hockey game could result in three deaths from a meningitis outbreak.  As sad as this is, the truth is it can often be something that simple. 

According to the National Meningitis Association, meningococcal disease is a serious, potentially fatal bacterial infection that strikes an average of 1,500 Americans annually, of which 11% will die.  In particular, adolescents and young adults account for 15 % of all cases. The reality is that one out of seven cases among adolescents will result in death and that is why we must encourage parents to vaccinate their adolescent children, regardless of whether it is mandated by schools or universities. 

Among those who survive meningococcal disease, approximately 20 percent suffer long-term consequences, such as brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss or limb amputations like Jamie Schanbaum.  Her story, and the touching accounts of many other survivors and victims, are featured on the websites of organizations like Meningitis Angels .  The National Association of School Nurses is also promoting a campaign of awareness with their Voices of Meningitis campaign.  Both organizations provide powerful stories of families who have suffered in some way from meningitis.  Their messages are impactful and extremely effective in demonstrating the importance of preventive measures, such as vaccination.    

The statistics clearly indicate that there is a need for a more comprehensive effort in the fight against meningitis. However, while the CDC recommends routine immunization against meningococcal meningitis for all adolescents 11 to 18, as well as college freshmen living in dormitories, recent studies also indicate that there are close to 50% of teens who are not currently vaccinated against meningitis.   But why? 

Unfortunately, as children get older, parents don’t routinely bring them in for regular doctor visits as they did when they were infants.  Additionally, meningitis immunizations are not universally required by all states for admittance into school.  Even though some states currently require immunization for students entering 6th grade, there may be older children, in that same state, that were never required to get the vaccine and therefore remain unvaccinated.  The fact is that if a vaccine is not required by the state or schools, many parents are simply not aware of the CDC recommendations.

Which is why, as part of National Immunization Awareness Month, Shot of Prevention would like to encourage parents to take some preventive measures.  Talk to your doctor about how a meningitis vaccine, as well as other recommended vaccines, can protect your children prior to the upcoming school year.   Be aware that vaccinations aren’t only for infants and young children.  Take precautions for your teens as well. 

Of course, if you have additional information pertaining to the recommended meningitis vaccine, or would like to share a personal experience, feel free to post a comment below.

  1. August 23, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Meningitis does not stop at the dorm room door. Sadly this thinking will cause more risk to those college freshmen living off campus and teens.
    Prior to this law most universities including junior colleges in Texas were requiring incoming all incoming students to be educated on the vaccine and they were required to sign a wavier refusing the vaccine. Now only those living on campus are vaccinated. There are 5 freshmen in our group at Angels all who were living off campus and told they did not need the vaccine. They all 5 died. My only child, Ryan would have stilled died under this law. Teens participate in all the high risk activities college freshmen do. All of them.

    Thanks to the work of Meningitis Angels, Frankie Milley, Joan Vasbinder, Leslie Meigs, Harley Beaty and the great work of our Texas Health Department all Texas students entering 7th grade are required to have TDaP, Meningococcal and Varicella vaccine. We now push for a booster at 16-17.
    We have to move forward with good laws and recommendations that protect all of those at risk from deadly, preventable disease including infants through adults, not just a select few.

    Like

  2. christinevara
    August 23, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Thanks Frankie for all the work you have done, and continue to do, to educate parents regarding the importance of the meningitis vaccine, as well as vaccines for other preventable diseases. By working hard to advocate for strong legislation, you and everyone who supports Meningitis Angels, are protecting people and saving lives!

    Like

  3. Virginia Marso
    August 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I can only echo the writer. I live in Minnesota where meningococcal vaccination is not required, despite my efforts to get our legislature to adopt such legislation. After my own college age son developed the disease and ended up with multiple amputations, through the National Meningitis Association, I met numerous others with similar histories . Some of them were only elementary or middle school age. One elementary level girl with multiple amputations was passing around lip gloss amongst several girls her age; a boy with multiple amputations was a teenage scout on a camp out. A number of parents I’ve met lost their other healthy youngsters of this age — often within 24 hours of their development of the first symptoms. These kids are not only at risk — They also have higher rates of the poorest outcomes: death and severe disability. And yet some doctors still don’t push the vaccination, indicating to parents, “It’s rare. Don’t worry about.” Isn’t tetanus rare? Do physicians advise not to “worry about it” and to forego the vaccine?

    Please! The vaccination takes a few seconds as part of your child’s next check up. It’s routinely covered by insurance or by Vaccines for Children. Don’t think it can’t happen to your child. And when it does, it’s too late.

    Virginia Marso — “Andy’s Mom”

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  4. Jeri Acosta
    August 23, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I encourage students and parents to take this information seriously and make sure all immunizations are up to date. As a mom whose only child died from this very same disease, I wished I would have known about the meningococcal vaccine. There was an outbreak at the university our son was attending with tragic results. He too was living off campus as were the other 5 students who contracted this horrible disease. I applaud Jamie on her efforts of helping to save lives and hope students do the same by making sure you are vaccinated. You see our son Robert will never have the chance of a lifetime, but you do. Get Vaccinated!!!!
    MOM Louisiana/National Meningitis Association

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  5. Diana McKinney
    August 28, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Echoing Ms. Marso’s comment that “some doctors still don’t push the vaccination,” parents , please be persistent in asking for meningitis vaccination for your teenagers. There have been some important changes in vaccination updates for adolescents and all providers of care for adolescents should be aware of these, such as tetanus and diphteria boosters with an acellular pertussis component addressing the growing “whooping cough” numbers in our country, and HPV vaccine, now available for both genders. Annual flu vaccine is another, and we just experienced an epidemic last year that targeted adolescents! These are routine immunization recommendations for adolescents in the 2010 CDC Vaccination Schedule. You are your child’s best advocate!

    Diana McKinney, RN, BS
    Retired Community Health Nurse

    Like

  6. Concerned Dallas Mom
    August 30, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    I read that 4 out of 5 of the cases of meningitis are b type strains that are not in the vaccine. How is this vaccine helping college kids? Is a more effective one coming out? Some are saying the vaccine is what has put pressure on the organism and allowing other more dangerous strains to proliferate. Is this true? What are other things parents can do to educate their kids to prevent this type of infection if the vaccine is so ineffective in protecting against the circulating strains? Why do some rare few get infected and have a bad outcome and others have the bacteria in their bodies and nothing happens? Do some of these kids drink, smoke, or stay up late of have a bad diet? Are some diabetic or on steroids for asthma? In other words, what makes the infection go wild in some kids and others are completely unaffected? Are there other real risk factors so kids can try and eliminate the ones they can control (like smoking which is bad enough but maybe knowing this will help them quit?) I haven’t been able to find answers to these questions from anybody and I am concerned but not convinced the current vaccine is the answer. My daughter goes to college soon and I want to know more. What are the risks of the vaccine and honestly how well does it work to prevent bacterial meningitis? How many unvaccinated college kids get meningitis strains actually in this vaccine and how many die from the strains included in this vaccine each year? Nobody, not even my doctor, has been able to answer that to me. He said something like 15 a year but wasn’t even sure those were from the strains in the vaccine. What went wrong in those poor kids – do we even know? I know it is horrible for those families and I appreciate their activism and education. It helps a lot to raise awareness and for that I am grateful – I’m just not convinced the current vaccine is the answer and we may be causing more kids to get hurt from the vaccine than injuries we are preventing. This is not contagious like pertussis and for almost everybody, isn’t it riskier to die in a car crash but we still let our kids drive? Any information you can provide to answer these questions would be appreciated.

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  7. August 31, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Dear Dallas Mom, Please take what I am about to say respectfully:
    You ask some important questions:
    I am not an expert but there are those out there who are.
    The most common of the meningococcal strain among teens and young adults in the US is C. The vaccines both protect against it. However Group B which is not covered by the vaccines does strike in the US, but rarely in this age group . There are vaccines on the horizon to prevent this strain.

    My only child, Ryan died from meningococcal meningitis group C. He did not drink, smoke or live on a college campus. He was extremely healthy in fact had just reached pro-golf status. To quote the medical examiner who did his autopsy “Except for what the bacteria did to him, he was in perfect health. Had he lived, he would have been blind, deaf, brain damaged, lost all four limbs, had no kidney or adrenal function.”
    We watched him bleed to death in a mater of 2 hours. Oh yes, not only did we endure that horrific experience, lets talk about an autopsy that has to be done because your child dies within 24 hours with no prior medical history. They take them in a body bag, to a morgue, cut them open, dissect them, probe them and then they tape them back together sometimes not always and send them necked in a body bag to the funeral home to be prepared for burial. You can feel and see the tape, the holes and cuts left by it.

    Infants , children, teens and young adults are all at risk for this disease and contract it. Most infants, children and even most teens, I would like to think don’t smoke and drink. Yet they get sick from this disease and are left without faces, arms, legs, hearing and vision. Some are left with seizures so bad they have to have parts of their brain removed to try and stop them. They have major organ failure and end up with transplants. Many were once very intelligent and are left with brain damage or short term memory loss so bad they can no longer even function. Some end up with serious mental illness as a result of the meningitis.

    You said, “isn’t it riskier to die in a car crash but we still let our kids drive?”
    Yes, kids do drive, and we by law require them to use a seat belt, be well educated and tested on the rules, not to have more than one passenger when they drive under a certain age, no cell phones in some states and etc. Isn’t this the driving vaccination to prevent accidents, disabilities and death?

    You asked? “Why do some rare few get infected and have a bad outcome and others have the bacteria in their bodies and nothing happens?”

    We truly don’t know the answers to this. There is on going study on this. We know that some behavior such as smoking, sharing food and drinks, kissing and etc. can cause a higer risk. We do know that those with the worst outcomes actually have meningococcemia. This is when the bacteria enters the blood stream, such as in Ryan’s case. Also vaccine preventable. So in the mean time vaccination and education on healthily living is the best we have. I wish everyday there had been a group like Meningitis Angels or ECBT to tell me there was a vaccine that could have prevented Ryan’s death. But there wasn’t. Now he is dead. Thanks to groups like Angels and ECBT, you are being educated and made aware of the facts.

    You asked? “How many unvaccinated college kids get meningitis strains actually in this vaccine and how many die from the strains included in this vaccine each year?

    To my knowledge the majority of cases is group C which is covered. There are approximately 2,500-3,000 cases of menigococcal disease a year in the US and about 30% of them are in the college age and not all live in dorms. However, I am sure http://www.CDC.gov has that information available.

    You stated: “I’m just not convinced the current vaccine is the answer and we may be causing more kids to get hurt from the vaccine than injuries we are preventing. This is not contagious like pertussis.”

    There are actually two vaccines on the market now, a new one called Menveo and the older one Menactra.
    Millions of kids – young adults have taken the vaccines. In fact, I have had it. Trust me if you ever visited a hospital room of one of these kids and saw their body literally rotting in front of you, saw your child’s face fall off in the pillow, sign papers for them to chop bits and pieces of your child’s gangrenous body, realized that your seeing and hearing child just 24 hours before no longer can do either, or watched as blood comes from every orifice of their body and they die as you watch helplessly. You would not even question the choice. Maybe not as contagious as pertussis unless your child is the one. Then it becomes epidmic in your life.

    Dallas Mom, I would say make sure the decision about meningitis vaccine you make is the right one. Make sure your daughter is truly educated on the facts because she is most likely 18 and should make that decision for herself. Meningitis does not stop at the dorm room door.

    It is debilitating, deadly and for the most part preventable.

    PS: Texas now requires this vaccine for 7th grade entry as teens are also at high risk for the disease.

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  8. Susan
    September 22, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Thank you Frankie for sharing your story. I send my sincerest wishes that your pain at losing your son lessens with each person who reads this and takes action to prevent this horrible disease from spreading by getting their family members vaccinated. We had an outbreak at a school in Oklahoma where I use to teach and still stay in close contact with my friends still at the school.
    It has been horrible for this community, students died and one little boy has been disfigured for life with all limbs amputated. I’m wondering why all children aren’t routinely vaccinated for this? Do you know? Also everyone out there please go get the TDAP vaccine asap. Adults, teenagers, and older elementary students need this as we are seeing epidemics again. Last night a family shared their story of losing their newborn at 7 weeks of age to whooping cough. A grandparent in Oklahoma gave whooping cough to their grandchild recently which required a month hospital stay for the baby. Anyone who is around a new baby please get immunized right away. I am going tomorrow for my shot as I have a new grandchild and just recently learned how this disease is making a comeback. We all have to spread the word about how important these vaccines are to save other people from going through what these parents have. Again, I’m so sorry for what must have been a horrible horrible nightmare and the loss of your precious son.

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  9. September 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Dear Susan:
    Thank you for your kind words. I was actually in Oklahoma for two weeks during the outbreak you speak of. Our organization Meningitis Angels helped several of the families and actually helped with the immunizing of the community. We have adopted the little one, you speak of in your comment, as one of our own. I found it most disturbing that even the middle and high school students did not know of the current ACIP recommendations for meningococcal disease. We left thousands of educational brochures and t-shirts for the school students. We also held World Meningitis Day there.

    As for pertussis, it is a very scary disease. One we all got to comfortable with.
    We just had a baby shower for my niece and I encouraged the some 60 guest to make sure they were up to date on there pertussis vaccine. Our whole family has been immunized anticipating his arrival;.

    Thank you again for your note.

    Frankie
    Meningitis Angels, Founder/Executive National Executive Director
    Mother to an only child, Ryan who died with meningitis.
    Meningitis does not stop at the dorm room door. My only child died from meningococcal meningitis.
    Infants, tweens, teens, young adults and those with compromised immune systems are all at risk.
    For more information on meningitis and vaccine preventable diseases visit:
    Visit the AAP, sound Advice on Vaccines: http://www.cispimmunize.org/fam/soundadvice.html
    Visit Our New Parent Website http://parent2parentonmeningitis.com/index.html
    Please join our cause and feature on your face book page. http://apps.facebook.com/causes/103719/35941843?m=6d54c0aa

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  10. christinevara
    September 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Concerned Dallas Mom,
    Thank you for your interest in this article. In forwarding your comments and questions to some specialists, we received the following response from the Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Paul A. Offit, MD. As an internationally recognized expert in the fields of virology and immunology, and a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Offit had these words to share:

    The conjugated meningococcal vaccine (Menactra) contains four of the five strains of meningococcus that cause disease in people (types A, C, Y, and W-135). In adolescents or young adults about to go to college, the strains contained in the vaccine would prevent about 70 percent of meningococcal illnesses. Although young children are more likely to get meningococcal infections, adolescents are more likely to die from the disease. Before the vaccine, every year about 300 people, many of whom were between 15 and 22, died from the disease. Because it is impossible to know who is at risk, all adolescents or college freshman are recommended to be vaccinated. Although meningococci are not nearly as contagious as diseases like pertussis, measles, or chickenpox, the diseases caused by meningococcus (sepsis, meningitis) are quite deadly or debilitating.

    Both of my children, now 15 and 18 years old, have been vaccinated with Menactra.”>

    Hopefully, the responses you’ve received to date have helped you to understand the concerns with this disease and the preventitive measures of vaccination. For further resources, you may want to reference the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center website at http://www.chop.edu/service/vaccine-education-center/about-the-vaccine-education-center.html.

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  11. March 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    My beautiful sister Star a 43 year old mother of two was struck down by this Silent Killer the day after Thanksgiving and just two days short of her 43rd birthday. My mother awoke to a crash in the kitchen where she ran to find my sister lying motionless on the floor, unable to speak and unable to move. She was rushed to the local; emergency room and then flown via Medivac to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where she was diagnosed with Bacterial Meningitis.According to the medical professionals Star had been walking around with the infection for some time because the infection which lay on top of her brain was over a quarter inch thick. They shot antibiotics directly into the infection in hopes that it would react.CDC was called in from Atlanta to begin the proper investigation as to where it originated and if anyone else was at risk.The team of professionals that worked with Star during this time tried mixtures of antibiotics never used before in their efforts to fight this deadly infection. Star went into a coma on that day. She missed her birthday,Christmas and the New Year. The doctors said she would never wake/ said she was brain dead/ and gave us a 5% chance of survival:However she did AWAKE. Once the abcess ruptured in her brain releasing the pressure that had built up inside and wouldn’t drain through the drain tube they had inserted into her brain, it found another way, through her eyes and ears it came out, and as bad as it sounds that was what saved her life. Star did wake up and she new us all, but she is now paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak due to a trach placed in her neck for the respirator that allows her to breathe.She is fed by a feeding tube placed directly into her stomach. During her stay in the Surgical Critical Care Unit she contracted ACINETOBACTER”The Iraqi Superbug” which is running uncontrolled in our ICU units and Nursing homes throughout the US due to contaminated tubing in these facilities.
    We have finally gotten Star accepted to a Rehabilitation Facility in Mt. Vernon Kentucky that will begin furthering the efforts to wean her from life support, get her up and mobile with the help of chairs there that are equipped to get her out of the hospital bed and begin her rehabilitation to see just how much she can be rehabilitated. This has been four months now of lying in a hospital bed, in the same room, looking at two walls,”not four”all because of a disease that is PREVENTABLE! We have exhausted all funds and living in South Carolina, I am having financial difficulties getting to my sister to stay with her so my Mother who is almost 70 can go home. Stars children are beyond grief, they just want their Mom back the way she was before that day. We know that only GOD above has the power to make that happen, so we pray and we pray that through the rehabilitation facility and God that will someday soon be a reality. To hear her voice would be one of the most wonderful sounds to my ears right now, but until we get her to Kentucky that isn’t going to happen. We need the help of everyone throughout the US to help us in raising funds for Stars family. Anyone can donate to any WACHOVIA BANK acct.9735 The Star Ellis Meningitis Hope Fund. or go to http://www.starellismeningitishopefund.org to make a donation today. Star is one of the few survivors and I will continue to SPREAD the WORD in hopes of making the vaccine MCV-4 and MPSV-4 mandatory throughout the United States. One life is to many. Please get your loved ones vaccinated today!!

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  12. May 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Though I think that its vital to have vaccinations, I believe that it’s important to remember that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective. As someone who has had the vaccine and them subsequent gotten meningitis, I know from my own case as well as others that the vaccine is not the be all and end all of meninigicoccal treatment. That being said, I still think that it’s important to take as many precautions as you can.

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