This guest post was provided by the National Meningitis Foundation (NMA) and first appeared on their Parents Who Protect blog.
As our obsession with basketball’s March Madness has progressed to the Final Four, our efforts to encourage “both shots” in the fight against meningococcal disease remain at center court.
While March is a time when basketball steals the headlines, it’s also a time when meningococcal disease steals our children. In fact, while meningococcal disease can strike at any time of year, the number of cases peaks in the winter and early spring. Unfortunately, for many National Meningitis Association (NMA) members, such as the member of Moms on Meningitis (M.O.M.) and Together Educating About Meningitis (T.E.A.M), March is a time when we remember those we lost to meningococcal disease.
- N.M.A. board member, Leslie Maier lost her son Chris on March 2nd
- M.O.M. Judy Miller lost her daughter Beth on March 12th
And there have been plenty of others who never got their “shot” at life.
The higher incidence of meningococcal disease in March can be seen in the headlines of the last few years.
In March 2014, a Drexel University student died after visiting Princeton University, which was nearing the end of an outbreak that impacted eight students. In 2015, the University of Oregon was battling an outbreak of meningococcal disease with two additional cases appearing in March. In 2016, students at both Penn State and Rutgers University were hospitalized with meningococcal disease in March. This year there were cases on three college campuses by mid-March: Wake Forest University, Old Dominion University, and Oregon State University. There has also been an outbreak, at an elementary school in Virginia.
To rise to the challenge of this other recurring “March Madness”, we must increase our efforts to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and its prevention.
There are two kinds of vaccines that students need to be protected from meningococcal disease, the MenACWY vaccine and the MenB vaccine.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12 with a booster at age 16 (MenACWY).
- CDC recommends permissive use of meningococcal vaccination against serogroup B at ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years (MenB). (Click here for more information.)
It’s important that students remain vigilant and be able to recognize the symptoms of meningococcal disease including headache, fever, stiff neck, and a purplish rash, so that you can promptly seek medical attention.
This March, let’s get on the ball and take “both shots” to prevent the other March Madness.
The National Meningitis Association is a nonprofit organization founded by parents whose children have died or live with permanent disabilities from meningococcal disease. Their mission is to educate people about meningococcal disease and its prevention. To stay informed about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it, follow The National Meningitis Association on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to subscribe to their Parents Who Protect blog.
Teens and young adults have a tendency to believe they’re completely invincible. But their lifestyle – which often involves high levels of stress, inadequate amounts of sleep and close living quarters – can put them at an increased risk of certain infections such as flu, mumps, meningitis and HPV. As students return to class after winter break, they’re reunited with classmates, roommates, and professors who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during their travels to other states or other countries.
While it’s impossible to prevent every cough and sniffle, parents can help protect their kids by ensuring they’re up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines.
So what are all the vaccines that are recommended for teens and young adults?
And wouldn’t they be required for school anyway?
Vaccine requirements vary by state and don’t necessarily include all the vaccines that the CDC recommends. Therefore, as winter break come to an end, parents should review their students’ immunization records and arrange for them to get any missing shots before they return to class.
Here are a few of the diseases that students should be protected against.
Influenza is a dangerous viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the U.S., even among health people of all ages. For the best protection, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.
Unfortunately, while flu vaccination rates are typically the highest among children, rates tend to drop among teens and young adults. If your college student hasn’t already received their annual flu vaccine it’s not too late. Bring them to their healthcare provider or local pharmacy to get them protected before they return to campus. Although it can take up to two weeks to develop antibodies post-vaccination, flu season often extends well into Spring, so students will benefit from protection for many months to come.
Mumps may not be considered “common” in the U.S. thanks to a 99% decrease in mumps cases once mumps vaccination began in 1967, but there have been several mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the past year, and approximately 4,258 cases across 46 states and DC in 2016.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that crowded environments, such a large classes and dormitory living can all contribute to the likelihood of outbreaks. Also, since mumps is spread primarily through saliva, coughing and sneezing, teen behaviors such as kissing or sharing plates, utensils, cups, lipstick or cigarettes, are all factors that can increase the likelihood of transmission. Read more…
Parents often go to great lengths to help their children succeed in college. What they may not realize is that their children often arrive on campus unprotected from a life threatening, yet preventable disease known as meningococcal serogroup B.
Four women, known as the ‘MenB Strong Moms’, became united on a mission to save others after their teen children died from meningococcal serogroup B before a vaccine was available to prevent the disease. Through a special partnership between The Kimberly Coffey Foundation and The Emily Stillman Foundation, they produced the following Meningitis B Shatters Dreams PSA to educate young adults and their parents about the availability of the MenB vaccine and to encourage college kids to get vaccinated while home for winter break.
“Our kids have brought us together and their message is loud and clear in this PSA.” says Alicia Stillman, Director of The Emily Stillman Foundation. “We don’t want parents to have to bury their children like we have, and we want kids to take it upon themselves to get protected and ask for the MenB vaccine.”
In the past few years, there have been outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B on several U.S. college campuses. This isn’t surprising considering that one out of ten people have the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms of disease. Additionally, typical teen behaviors, such as living in close quarters, hanging out in large groups, sharing drinks or utensils, and kissing, all increase the risk of meningococcal disease.
And when meningococcal disease strikes, it strikes quickly. In fact, one in ten teens and young adults who develop meningococcal disease will die from it, sometimes within 24 hours. Those lucky enough to survive will often suffer significant physical and mental disabilities, ranging from deafness, nervous system problems, brain damage, or loss of limbs.
While most teens receive the recommended meningococcal vaccine known as MenACWY at age 16, or prior to attending college, the MenACWY vaccine does not prevent the serogroup B strain. Since this B strain accounts for approximately half of all meningococcal cases in the U.S. among those age 17-22, the MenB Strong Moms believe it is imperative that young adults and their parents understand the options for prevention. Unfortunately, although the MenB vaccine has been licensed for over a year, many doctors are still not mentioning it to their patients and therefore, most parents and young adults don’t realize the vaccine exists. Read more…
As a mother and a nurse, I was vigilant in having both of my children up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations, including meningococcal vaccination. I was under the common misconception, as many parents are, that the meningococcal vaccine that my daughter received would fully protect her from meningococcal disease, when in fact, it didn’t protect her against meningitis B. The meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) only protects against four of the five common groups (ACWY), leaving adolescents and young adults vulnerable to meningitis B. Meningitis B is a type of bacterial meningitis, also known as meningococcal disease, which is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can kill a healthy person within 24 hours.
When my daughter Kimberly Coffey died in 2012 from bacterial meningitis, a vaccine was not available to protect her. But since 2014, meningitis B vaccination has been available in the United States. Kimberly was a perfectly healthy 17-year-old high school senior, and I believe she would be alive today if meningitis B vaccination had been available to her.
I established The Kimberly Coffey Foundation in Kimberly’s honor to educate other parents and health care providers about meningitis B, also known as MenB.
It’s critical that parents know that MenB vaccination is now available, and that without requesting MenB vaccination in addition to the common meningococcal vaccine (MCV4), their child will not be fully protected against meningococcal disease and MenB.
The Kimberly Coffey Foundation has partnered with Pfizer on the National Meningococcal Disease Awareness Survey to gain a better understanding of parents’ knowledge of meningococcal disease and its available vaccines. This 2016 survey revealed that nearly 4 out of 5 parents didn’t know their child wasn’t fully immunized against the five common groups of meningococcal disease unless they had two meningococcal vaccines (MCV4 and MenB).
The bottom line is this – without adding MenB vaccination, we are going to lose more lives. There will continue to be more college outbreaks, especially since MenB has been responsible for several recent college outbreaks in the United States. According to data released by the CDC, MenB currently accounts for approximately 50% of meningococcal disease in the United States among persons aged 17-22 years old. MenB vaccination is available for individuals ages 10-25, and public health insurance and most private insurance plans provide coverage. However, your child’s provider may not mention it.
I want parents to have the knowledge to request MenB vaccination, in addition to the meningococcal vaccine, so that their children can potentially be fully protected against this devastating disease.
As a mother who lives every day with the heartache of not seeing my beautiful daughter live the full life she deserved, I know only too well how important MenB vaccination is. My daughter Kimberly’s life was one too many lost to this terrible disease.
I will be Kimberly’s voice as I continue to promote awareness of meningococcal disease, which includes MenB. I don’t ever want another parent to experience what I have. And more important, I don’t want another person to experience what Kimberly did when she battled for her life.
Kimberly contracted MenB two years too early—two years before the MenB vaccine was made available. She didn’t have the protection of the MenB vaccination, but your children can. Please protect your children – because YOU can.
For more information about meningitis B and the MenB vaccine, please visit the Kimberly Coffey Foundation at www.kimberlycoffeyfoundation.org.
Every Child By Two (host of the Shot of Prevention blog) welcomes guest blog posts on a variety of vaccine related issues. The views and opinions expressed in these guest posts do not necessarily represent the views of the Every Child By Two organization.
Preparing a kid for college is akin to preparing for their arrival at birth. There are so many details to think about, choices to consider and preparations to be made that it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed. As parents, we want nothing more than to ensure that our children are well prepared – both physically and emotionally – for all the challenges they are about to face.
While it’s natural to focus on the dorm items your child might need, parents should also help prepare their teen for the responsibilities they will have in managing their own health. Once they move into that dorm, you will no longer be there to fill their prescriptions, fetch their medicine, make their doctor’s appointments, or otherwise ensure they are getting the medical attention they need. It will be up to them to maintain a healthy diet, get adequate rest, and protect themselves from the dangers of alcohol, drugs and unwanted or unsafe sex. They will need to know when to seek professional medical attention if they should get sick, injured or find themselves struggling with mental or physical needs.
Before your child heads off to college, here are five things you can do to help them stay healthy:
1.) Get your child a physical exam.
When kids are young, parents are accustomed to bringing them in for well-visits. However, it’s not uncommon for kids to miss yearly check-ups in lieu of sports physicals and sick visits. Before your child heads to campus, make sure to schedule a comprehensive health exam. The conversation your child has with the doctor should help prepare them to manage their current health conditions while away at school (such as any known allergies, specialist appointments and regular medications) while also opening the discussion to the dangers of stress, poor diet, inadequate sleep, binge drinking, drug experimentation and unsafe sex. If their provider fails to cover these issues completely, it’s important that parents weigh in on these concerns as well. You can let your child know that while you trust them to make responsible decisions, you are always available for advice and support.
2.) Get all the recommended vaccines, not just those required by the school.
For many students, college can be a time of significant stress. Students don’t always eat a healthy diet or get the proper rest. They live in close quarters and have a tendency to share cups and eating utensils. At some point your child may travel, or engage with fellow students and faculty members who have traveled, to areas where diseases are more prevalent. And studies show that college students are more likely to engage in risky behavior. All these conditions make students more susceptible to illness. It is also what contributes to the chances of outbreaks occurring on college campuses.
Making sure your child is up-to-date on all the recommended vaccines, not just those required by the school, can help them avoid dangerous and sometimes even deadly illnesses. While there are several immunizations that are recommended for college-age students, each state and college may have different admission requirements.
To best protect your college-bound student from preventable diseases, parents should consider the following vaccines for students before they arrive on campus: Read more…
This guest post was written by Neal Raisman, PhD, to highlight the threat of meningococcal disease in the U.S. as part of Vaccinate Your Family’s “State of the ImmUnion” campaign.
My son Isaac was a very healthy 26-year-old who worked out every day and took great pride in how and what he ate. On September 24, 2005 he called home from college to tell his mother he had a terrible headache and felt lousy. Since he complained of chills and a fever, my wife and I thought he was suffering with the flu and told him to get some sleep and drink lots of fluids. He called again to report that the headache was even worse and he felt even sicker. Again, his mother re-assured him that it was probably the flu.
Little did we know at that time, but Isaac did not have the flu.
What he had was serogroup type B meningitis and it was quickly eating at his body and brain.
He died soon after that call with his mother. It wasn’t until later that night that I was able to get into his apartment where I found his body. This is the last photo that was ever taken of our son.
Isaac had received a meningitis vaccine before college, but back in 2005, the only meningococcal vaccine available was one that covered the serogroup strains of A, C, W and Y. At that time there was no vaccine to prevent the B strain that killed our son.
But there is now.
I’m sharing our story today so that every mother and father will know that serogroup B meningococcal disease kills and maims without mercy.
Not every person infected will die like Isaac. Sometimes victims will live in a brain-dead coma. Some will lose limbs. Now that I know how quick and devastating this disease is, I must caution parents to do everything they can to protect their children before it is too late.
In 2014, nine years after we lost Isaac, the FDA approved the first vaccine to prevent the serogroup B strain of meningococcal disease.
In order to offer the most complete protection from all the preventable strains of meningococcal disease, this MenB vaccine needs to be administered in addition to the MenACWY vaccine that is already on the recommended immunization schedule.
While the current burden of disease appears to be low, there have been outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease at U.S. colleges that have resulted in loss of limbs and loss of life. Following FDA approval, it is customary for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to evaluate the data and determine whether the vaccine should be added to the recommended schedule. With FDA approval, the safety of the vaccine was not in question, however the ACIP felt it was necessary to continue to review data pertaining to vaccine effectiveness, duration of effectiveness and impact of the vaccine on carriage and herd immunity. Therefore, the initial ACIP decision was to make a routine recommendation for individuals at highest risk of disease and in outbreak situations, while recommending that those in the 16-23 year age range “may be vaccinated to provide short term protection against the strain”. This is what is known as a “permissive” or “Category B” recommendation.
In the beginning, there was speculation that due to this “Category B” recommendation, that not all insurance companies would cover the cost of the vaccine. However, as a condition of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all health plans must start covering any recommended vaccine (even Category B) with no out-of-pocket costs when provided by an in-network healthcare provider. Health plans have until one year after the effective date of the recommendation to comply, so it is possible that some patients won’t be covered until their plan renewal, which may occur more than a year after the October 2015 recommendation was made. However, public health partners nationwide continue to report that providers (including Vaccine For Children providers) are not universally stocking the vaccine, nor making strong recommendations for its use. In addition, although the majority of health plans are covering the cost, some may not be following ACA guidelines, which can be quite ambiguous. Some may be covering the cost of the vaccine for one category of recipients (i.e. high risk) but not those who “may” be vaccinated.
As a parent of a child who died from meningococcal disease, I still worry that this ambiguous recommendation is leaving our children unprotected.
A vaccine is now available to prevent the B strain that my son died of. Yet this limited recommendation means that many doctors won’t be discussing the availability of the vaccine, and many parents won’t know that the vaccine is available. Worse yet, many parents may wrongfully believe their child is fully protected from all the preventable meningococcal strains when their child receives the MenACWY, which is not accurate.
So now we are left wondering, what is the benefit of the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine if parents aren’t aware that it is available or believe they can’t afford it? How many lives will be lost due to the current policy? And what will it cost to stop letting young men and women be horribly maimed or die?
After losing her son Evan to meningococcal disease, Lynn Bozof’s life became a mission to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies. She has since co-founded the National Meningitis Association (NMA), to help educate people about the dangers of meningococcal disease. In this special State of the ImmUnion post, Lynn addresses some of the most common questions parents have asked her about meningococcal disease and the ways it can be prevented.
How would you describe the current “State of the ImmUnion” for meningococcal disease? How many cases of meningococcal disease are there in a typical year? Are enough people protected?
In the 14 years since NMA was founded, vaccination rates have climbed steadily while disease incidence has declined. Although we are pleased with this progress, there is much more work to be done to strengthen the State of the ImmUnion.
Annually, there are approximately 800-1200 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States. As an organization comprised of survivors and families who have lost children to this devastating disease, we at NMA know that one case is too many.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) routinely recommends meningococcal vaccines beginning at age 11-12, one in five U.S. teens are not vaccinated as recommended and one-third of those who get the first dose don’t go on to get their booster dose. This leaves adolescents unprotected as they enter some of their most vulnerable years.
What can parents do to protect their families from meningococcal disease?
As a parent who lost my college-age son, Evan, to meningococcal disease, I urge all parents to make sure their child is vaccinated. Vaccination offers the best protection against this disease, and parents should understand that to be fully vaccinated against meningococcal disease, your child should receive two kinds of meningococcal vaccines.
There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B.
MenACWY Vaccine: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12, with a booster at age 16.
MenB Vaccine: After the FDA approved this vaccine in 2014, the CDC made a permissive recommendation for children ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years.
Because it behaves somewhat differently, the B serogroup was not included in the ACWY vaccine, and it took longer for scientists to design an effective vaccine.
Today, nearly half (43 percent) of all meningococcal disease cases among U.S. teens and young adults are caused by serogroup B. Since MenB is a relatively new vaccine, and not routinely recommended, many parents and healthcare professionals remain unaware of this vaccine. This is particularly concerning since it’s the most common cause of meningococcal disease in adolescents and the cause of several outbreaks on college campuses in recent years. This is why we urge parents to have a conversation with your child’s doctor to ensure your child is fully vaccinated.
My doctor never mentioned a separate vaccine for serogroup B? Why is that?
While the MenACWY vaccine has been routinely recommended since 2005, the MenB vaccine received FDA approval in 2014. That is not to say this is a “new” vaccine. The MenB vaccine has been used in other countries for many years already, and safety and efficacy data from these countries has been extensively reviewed by the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP). After FDA approval in the U.S., the Committee gave this vaccine a permissive or “category B” recommendation. Unlike a routine recommendation, this recommendation puts more responsibility on parents to request the vaccine, which is why it is important to be proactive and ask your doctor about it.
Are there certain people who should be particularly concerned about meningococcal disease? How easily does it spread?
Vaccines are recommended for adolescents and young adults because they are at higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
The following factors increase the risk of disease: being an adolescent or young adult, spending time in large crowds like parties or dorms, and participating in behaviors like kissing or sharing drinks. But, anyone at any age can contract it.
Other people who are at higher risk for the disease include:
- Infants under 1 year of age
- People living in crowded settings like college dorms or military barracks
- People living with HIV
- Those with persistent complement component deficiency or anatomic or functional asplenia
- People traveling to certain areas outside the U.S. such as the meningitis belt in Africa
- Laboratory personnel who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
- Those who might have been exposed to meningococcal disease during an outbreak
Meningococcal disease is contagious. It is spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions during close contact such as kissing, sharing drinks or coughing on someone. Although meningococcal bacteria are very dangerous, they cannot live outside the body for very long. This means the infection is not as easily spread as a cold virus. About one in ten people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease. These people can unknowingly transmit the bacteria to others.
Of those who contract the disease, 1 in 10 will die and 2 in 10 will suffer from long term complications, including deafness, brain damage, or limb amputations.