Meningitis Survivor Advocates for MenB Vaccine
My name is Jamie Schanbaum and I am a meningitis survivor.
I’m here to tell you that meningitis is not only life changing, but it is deadly. In 2008 I was diagnosed with meningococcal septicemia, which left me with serious life weighing decisions. Within 14 hours from my first symptom, I was told that I had a 20 percent chance of surviving. Then I was told that I was going to have to have some of my limbs amputated. At the age of 20, my life had been average. But within hours it transitioned to detrimental. Seven months later, I finally stepped out (or more so, wheeled out) of the hospital. I was alive, but I had lost the bottom half of my legs and all of my fingers.
There is no way anyone could have predicted that this would be my life. I had so many expectations for the future before I got meningitis, and suddenly all that had changed. I left the hospital with never-ending doubts of what my life would be like. I’m now 26, and every day I live with the consequences of meningitis and the fact that I was not vaccinated.
That is why in 2009, my family and I became instrumental in educating the public about the dangers of meningitis and advocating for new Texas legislation that would require college students, living in public and private facilities, to get vaccinated. Then in 2011, we worked to amend the bill so that all college students in the state of Texas would be required to get the meningitis vaccine before enrolling in classes. I am honored that ever since The Jamie Schanbaum & Nicolas Williams Act was enacted, the number of meningitis cases in the state of Texas has continued to decrease. Texas was the first state to implement this law, and I am hopeful that other states will follow.
Today we have an opportunity to save even more lives, and spare others from suffering the same permanent consequences as I have. This week the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will consider whether to recommend the newly approved serogroup B meningococcal vaccine. The current meningitis vaccine that children are recommended to receive between ages 11-12, and then again with a booster at age 16, hasn’t been 100% capable of covering all five strains of meningitis. The serogroup B strain, which can now be prevented with this newly approved vaccine, is a very dangerous strain and we’ve recently seen an increase in the number of cases on college campuses across the U.S. Now more than ever, we need to seize the moment and make sure the public is protected from as many forms of meningitis as possible.
Before voting on the specifics of who should receive this new vaccine, I encourage everyone on the committee to take a look at survivors like myself, to listen to families of those who have lost loved ones to this disease, and to really consider the consequences of leaving any child unprotected when a safe and effective vaccine exists.
This disease has been one of the fastest killing diseases for the past 80 years. And yet, it’s preventable. It’s my job as an advocate to make sure the public is aware of how this disease can take a hold of any life and change it forever. And I feel it is also my responsibility to encourage the ACIP to recommend this vaccine for every child.
Before enrolling into college, no one warned me of the dangers of meningitis, and no one mentioned that there was a vaccine that could have prevented me from contracting it. The first step in the protection of others is to add the vaccine to the CDC’s immunization schedule. After that, I encourage states to mandate the vaccine for college entrance to ensure that everyone is offered this life-saving protection.
Let the children stay healthy and live their lives. Let their parents live without fear or danger of their children being affected by meningitis. And together, let us ensure that tomorrow’s children will reach their fullest potential.