Column: Don’t forget Meningitis B vaccine
The start of a new academic year means that students will soon be headed back to school, and trading in their long days on the beach for long nights of studying. It’s an exciting time for returning students who can’t wait to reconnect with friends after a long summer. For thousands of young freshmen, this year also marks the start of a new chapter in life and a first step into adulthood.
For me, it’s the time of year that I am constantly reminded of my daughter, Emily, and the importance of getting all of our college students immunized against Meningitis B before they head back to campus.
Emily was a sophomore studying psychology and theater at Kalamazoo College. She had just started her second semester, when she called me complaining about a minor headache. I suggested that she take Motrin and asked her to let me know how she felt in the morning. That next morning, I received a phone call from the hospital and, in a few impossibly short hours, Emily slipped into a coma. She had contracted meningococcal disease and was being rushed into surgery.
When she was a child, Emily had been vaccinated for meningitis, but was never vaccinated and protected against meningitis B. A vaccine for Men B was not yet available in the United States. My daughter was just 19 when she lost her life to Meningitis B on Feb. 2, 2013.
For most students, at least a couple of years of college are spent living in small dorm rooms packed with roommates. Cramped quarters and a communal living means that sharing is part of the experience, whether that means splitting meals, clothes, or notes from class. The downside is, students in such close proximity could also be sharing sickness.
The potentially rapid spread of illness is why it is so important for students to be fully vaccinated before heading back to campus this fall. Even if you, or your child, has all their recommended vaccinations, please take the time to ask your doctor about the Meningitis B vaccination.
There are five distinct groups of vaccine-preventable meningitis. The common vaccine that most children receive at age 11 and again at 16 or 17 (MenACWY) only protects against four of the five groups and still leaves a risk for contracting Meningitis B. A separate vaccine was created to specifically protect against the group B strain- Meningitis B. In order for students to be protected, they must receive the second vaccination series.
The Kimberly Coffey Foundation has published a study that found over 80 percent of parents were unaware that the vaccine even existed. 89 percent of parents also believed their children should be immunized after learning about Meningitis B.
According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control, Meningitis B accounts for approximately 50 percent of all meningitis cases in persons 17-22 years old. Getting immunized against Meningitis B before heading to campus can ensure your student doesn’t become the latest victim of this deadly disease.
My daughter Emily’s life was taken too soon, but that doesn’t mean that another parent needs to endure what our family has. This August is Meningitis Awareness Month. Take the time to learn more and find out what you can do to protect your family. By educating both parents and students on Meningitis B, its symptoms, and the vaccine to stop it, we have the ability to save other young people from this deadly but preventable disease.
Alicia Stillman is director of the Emily Stillman Foundation.