Grieving father, college leader: Vaccinate for meningitis B

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On Sept. 24, 2005, my son Isaac called home to tell his mother he had a terrible headache and felt lousy; chills and a fever. He was a very healthy young man who worked out every day and took pride in how and what he ate. Thinking it was the flu, my wife told him to get some sleep and drink lots of fluids. He called again at 4:16 to report that the headache was even worse and he felt even sicker. His mother re-assured him that it was probably the flu, so get some rest. I agreed with the diagnosis.

But it was not the flu. It was type B meningitis eating at his body and brain. He died soon after he spoke with his mother. I found his body.

There was nothing that could be done back in 2005 for meningitis type B. He had his meningitis shot for college, but there was no vaccine for meningitis B — then. But there is now. And every mother and father should see to it that their children get it, for type B kills and maims without mercy. Sometimes the results of meningitis B make dying almost preferred to living in a brain dead coma.

As one who has lost a child to Men B and as an ex-college president, I am fully aware that meningitis loves to hit on college campuses as it has recently. I also know that we should make sure that every student who attends college has been vaccinated for all strains of meningitis, including B.

Currently, states normatively ask students to get the shots for types the A, C, Y and W strains but the killer B is not called for. Moreover, too many states allow college students to opt out of getting a vaccine through a waiver system.  This allowance places others at risk if the person who did not get the vaccine contracts meningitis.

Campuses across the country are seeing instances of this disease, because of the way the disease spreads —with close personal contact. Living in dorms, sharing a drink, a kiss—that’s how meningitis moves from one person to the next.  As stewards of these campus communities, we must act to protect our student and faculty population. Schools need to adopt stronger meningitis vaccine requirements — ensuring that students and their parents are not only aware of the risk of Meningitis B, but requiring students get the vaccine.

This disease has touched Connecticut already—last year there was an outbreak at Yale.  Thousands of kids at the dozens of colleges in the state need to be protected from the disease.

Waiting until an outbreak has hit a community is too late. Colleges need to be proactive in their approach to help prevent meningitis before it hits — as I’ve seen firsthand, this disease moves faster than we can react.

This has to change. Kids are dying and losing limbs to this dreadful disease. There is no good reason that these vaccines aren’t more widely available. The current situation is unacceptable. Those of us who have the ability to keep another life from being impacted by meningitis must take action.

Children — and especially college students need to be vaccinated for all strains of meningitis, including B. If my son had been vaccinated for B, he would be with us today.

Dr. Neal Raisman is an Ambassador for the Global Healthy Living Foundation and a former college president.

What do you think?

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