Meningitis Vaccine May Save Your Child's Life
Mar 14, 2013
Earlier this week I watched a mother lay her sweet 13-year-old child to rest. After a year-long battle with cancer, Kimberly’s fight was over and an entire community turned out to honor her at her funeral. As I sat in the pew of the church with my kids, I tried to imagine what it must be like to have to say goodbye to your own child. As parents we want nothing more than to protect our children. To imagine them suffering and dying is just unimaginable. My heart was heavy for Kimberly’s mother and I spent some quiet time reflecting on all the parents I’ve known who have walked in her shoes.
By some strange coincidence, when I returned to work I happened to come across the heartbreaking story of Evan – a child I had been thinking of only hours before.
Evan was a healthy twenty-year-old, honor student, and a pitcher on his college baseball team when he lost his life to meningitis fourteen years ago. I met his mother, Lynn Bozoff, during an immunization conference I attended when I first began writing for Shot of Prevention. I remember when we were first introduced. Lynn briefly told me how she had lost her son and how this inspired her to become the founder of the National Meningitis Association to raise awareness about meningococcal disease, its symptoms, and prevention.
She delivered those words to me like I’m sure she had done a thousand times before, and a thousand times since. They were concise and to the point. While I couldn’t tell from the gentle expression on her face, I knew inside her heart was breaking. I remember feeling an uncomfortable lump in my throat as I thought about my own children and realized the pain she must live with day after day.
I’ve come to know Lynn a bit better over the years, but I will never fully understand the depths of her sorrow. In her latest effort to spread awareness about meningitis, she wrote a touching article on Voices for Vaccines which explains what Evan endured.
“Over twenty-six days, in three different hospitals, meningococcal disease ravaged Evan’s body. Amputations of both arms and legs were not enough to save his life. He lost kidney and liver function, suffered ten hours of grand mal seizures, and was eventually declared brain dead. No parent should have to watch his or her child be disconnected from life support, flat-line, and be carried away.”
Lynn explains that she had always been a mom who vaccinated her children, but at that time she just didn’t know that there was a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis. Nowadays, thanks in part to organizations like National Meningitis Association and Every Child By Two, parents can learn more about the vaccines that are available to protect their children. Through the efforts of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Council of Immunization Practices (ACIP), vaccine recommendations are constantly being evaluated, and when needed expanded, in an effort to save the lives of children like Evan.
Currently, meningococcal disease can be prevented by the MCV4 and MPSV4 vaccines. While MCV4 is recommended for certain high risk children from ages 9 months through 10 years, the more common schedule includes a recommendation that all 11-12 years olds be vaccinated and a booster dose administered at 16 years of age to cover the period between 16 and 21 when the risk of death from meningococcal disease is at its peak.
Interestingly enough, last year there was considerable debate surrounding the approval of a new infant meningitis vaccine. On June 14, 2012, the Food and Drug Administration licensed Hib-MenCY-TT for the prevention of invasive Hib and serogroups C and Y meningococcal disease in children aged 6 weeks through 18 months. While the vaccine was deemed safe and approved for use, the decision to add the vaccine to the recommended infant schedule would involve considerations that extended beyond safety. Immunization experts had various factors to consider.
First, the vaccine didn’t contain the serogroup B, which means that a significant number of infant cases would not have been prevented, even with good vaccine coverage. To add to this, in reviewing the disease trends, it was determined that there had recently been a reduction of incidence of the disease in infants, which may or may not have been a result of the increase in overall adolescent vaccination. It was then projected that routine vaccination would prevent about 25% of cases in infants, which translates to a total of 44 cases and approximately 2-4 deaths per year. As far as public policy goes, the number was not deemed significant enough to warrant routine vaccination of an entire population. However, in October 2012, the ACIP voted to recommend the use of Hib-MenCY-TT in infants at increased risk for meningococcal disease. It is now expected that by summer 2013 the vaccine will begin to be available through the Vaccine for Children Program.
Since many interested parents followed along with these policy decisions, it’s not surprising to recognize that some parents still want to get their children vaccinated, even if the vaccine is not a part of the recommended schedule. Just yesterday, a mother questioned a group of vaccine advocates as to how she might be able to ensure her son gets this vaccine, even though he does not fall within the high risk category. She realizes that it will not be covered by her insurance, but she does not want to take the risk, no matter how small, that her child may suffer from something that could have been prevented; which is a testament to the work that people like Lynn Bozoff continues to do in educating the public about this deadly disease.
Lynn does not share her story to gain sympathy from others. She tells her story in hopes that parents will be better informed to make the choice to protect their children in every way possible. Even if that means going above and beyond what is considered normal and “recommended”.
She reminds us,
“The bottom line is that our son did not have to die. There were vaccines available that could have saved his life, but we were not told about them.”
Currently, various states are enacting legislation governing meningitis vaccination. This includes Texas and more recently Tennessee, where they are working towards legislation that would require college students who live on campus to receive a meningitis vaccine in an attempt to prevent a repeat of Evan’s story. If you would like to be alerted to various immunization legislation efforts in your state, be sure to sign up to Get Involved here.
By educating parents about their choices, we hope that they will also consider Lynn’s concerns:
“I am not scared of vaccines. I am scared about what happens when parents choose not to immunize.”
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