As a public health advocate, I work each day to educate families and health care providers about the importance and availability of vaccines. As a parent, my top priority is the health and safety of my children.
So, it was surprising to me when I recently encountered a potential issue in getting my son immunized against a deadly, yet vaccine-preventable disease — Meningitis B.
If you’ve never heard of Meningitis B, you’re not alone. Many parents are aware of a meningococcal vaccine that protects against four serogroups of the disease, but few know there’s a separate vaccine to protect you and your children against a fifth serogroup, Meningitis B.
Vaccines to prevent meningococcal disease should be given to kids at age 12 and again at 17. Vaccines are important at all stages of life, including for our teens and pre-teens. In addition to meningococcal disease, adolescents should be receiving vaccines that prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), influenza, and Tdap, a vaccine that boosts their protection against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
Many states, including Connecticut, require children to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease. However, the requirement usually only extends to the vaccine that covers the four serogroups of meningococcal disease, not the newer vaccine that prevents serogroup B – which has been responsible for nearly all the outbreaks on college campuses recently.
Fast forward to my son’s latest doctor’s appointment. He’s about to be a senior in high school, so I asked about the meningococcal vaccines. My pediatrician suggested we wait to see what college my son gets into and determine the immunizations based on that school’s requirements. When I insisted that my son will have all available vaccines no matter what college he attends, I was told I’d need to go to the pharmacy, pick up the vaccine and bring it to the doctor’s office for administration. I was shocked and dismayed. I know the facts, I know the importance of getting this done. But I know most people don’t. I know most people don’t spend their days with families who have been devastated by the death of a child to meningococcal disease. I know that it would be easy to take the recommendation of your doctor—who you trust—and wait and see about getting your kid vaccinated.
But you can’t wait. This disease is too deadly, too fast moving. It takes a perfectly healthy person and steals their hearing, their arms and legs, and even their life in a matter of hours. It’s true that many of the cases of the disease happen on college campuses, due to the nature of how the disease spreads, through close personal contact. But I know families who have lost high school children; adults who contracted it on vacation. It’s a serious disease that cannot be dismissed so easily.
My children will be vaccinated to prevent Meningitis B and all other diseases. I urge parents to learn about meningococcal disease, the vaccines to prevent it, and to be advocates for your children. Question your doctor. Know the facts. Protect your family.
Amy Pisani, M.S. is the Executive Director of Every Child By Two. She lives with her family in Waterford.