Almost exactly five years ago, I was a mom beaming with pride and joy. My 17-year-old daughter, Kimberly Coffey, was getting ready to graduate from high school and attend her senior prom. But it all changed so quickly and so drastically.
Days before she was to graduate, a deadly disease called meningitis B overtook Kimberly's body. Kim went from being a healthy teenager to being on life support in a matter of hours. After several days in the ICU, Kim lost her battle with the disease. We buried her in the prom dress she never got to wear.
As both a mother and a registered nurse, I have done everything possible to keep my children healthy, being particularly vigilant about vaccinations. So when Kimberly developed a fever and widespread rash that was diagnosed as meningitis, I was stunned.
When Kim contracted the disease in 2012, there was no vaccine yet developed to protect against serogroup B, but today there is. The common meningococcal vaccine (MCV4), which many states and schools require, does not protect against one of the most common disease types – serogroup B – a strain that accounts for 50 percent of all meningococcal disease cases in the U.S. In Indiana, all reported meningitis cases in 2014 were caused by the meningitis B strain, and in 2015, five of the six cases were meningitis B.
According to results from a 2016 national survey, nearly four in five parents say they were unaware that their child was not fully immunized.
The bottom line is this: Your kids need to have two separate vaccines to be fully protected against all types of meningitis. And all types of meningitis can be deadly, so if your physician does not talk to you about meningitis B, please ask them. It may save your child's life.
Since 2012, my husband and I have been committed to making sure parents and health care professionals are educated about meningococcal disease and advocating for both the meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) and the meningitis B-specific vaccine with education and awareness efforts through the Kimberly Coffey Foundation. It is our hope that we can be her voice in educating other parents.
While protection against serogroup B did not exist in 2012, the first B vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, and, though not required, the Centers for Disease Control recommendation states that adolescents ages 16 to 23 may receive the MenB vaccine. The vaccine is especially important for those living in close quarters, like college dorms, where the disease can rapidly spread.
Many parents have the common misconception that their children are only at risk while in college when, in fact, high school students are at risk too.
Legislative changes are being made across the country – including in Indiana – that will better shield our children from meningitis. This spring, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Indiana House Enrolled Act 1069, which will require students attending public colleges in Indiana to be vaccinated against meningitis beginning in the fall of 2018. Although this legislation does not extend those protections to include meningitis B, it is my hope that the state continues to lead the nation in protecting its youth by extending that requirement.
This new law comes in addition to a strong recommendation made earlier this year by the Indiana State Department of Health for public high school students entering their senior year, to be advised to receive the additional vaccine that protects specifically against Meningitis B.
I applaud the state of Indiana's dedication to protect Indiana's youth and the continued work of the Indiana Immunization Coalition's “Beware of B” campaign to raise awareness about this deadly disease and the critical importance of the meningitis B vaccine.
No parents should have to bury their child. As I think about and miss my daughter so much, I urge all parents to schedule a doctor's appointment or visit a pharmacy clinic to get their sons' and daughters' vaccines up to date – and to be sure to ask specifically about the meningitis B vaccination. I only wish I could have.
Patti Wukovits, a registered nurse, is executive director of the Kimberly Coffey Foundation and board member and secretary of Nurses Who Vaccinate and Shot@Life Champion.