Update on teen meningococcal (meningitis) vaccines
Olga Pasick, mom of a teen who died of meningococcal disease, shares her personal experience and information about the updated guidelines.
I wish I had known the importance of vaccination for meningococcal disease before it was too late for my son. Back in September of 2004, David was a happy, healthy 13 year old, who came down with flu-like symptoms one evening. He first felt cold, then spiked a high fever, and vomited throughout the night. In the morning we called the pediatrician to have him seen. Everything ached, and he needed help getting dressed. That’s when I noticed purplish spots on his chest and arms. I didn’t know how serious that symptom was.
As soon as the doctors saw him, they knew he had meningococcal disease. He was rushed to the ER for a spinal tap and treatment. Unfortunately, the disease spread quickly and his organs failed. David died within 24 hours of first developing those flu-like symptoms from a potentially vaccine-preventable disease. Unbelievable… and heartbreaking.
Meningococcal disease is spread through respiratory droplets, such as coughing or sneezing, or through direct contact with an infected person, such as kissing. About 1 in 10 people are carriers, and don’t even know it. It doesn’t affect everyone. It is difficult to diagnose because symptoms are similar to the flu, and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and a blotchy rash. The disease spreads quickly and within hours can cause organ failure, brain damage, amputations of limbs, and death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend meningococcal vaccination for all 11-18 year olds. The newest recommendation is for permissive use (recommended on a case by case basis) of a type of meningococcal vaccine called meningococcal serotype B. The serotype B vaccine is for ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16-18. This recommendation joins the long-standing recommendation that all adolescents get meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine (this one vaccine protects against these four serotypes) at age 11-12 with a booster dose at 16. The newer serotype B vaccine is particularly important for older adolescents and young adults because it is the most common cause of meningococcal disease in this age group. No vaccine is 100% effective, but it is the best preventative measure we can take.
Because of my experience, I became a member of the National Meningitis Association’s (NMA) Moms on Meningitis (M.O.M.s) program. We are a coalition of more than 50 mothers from across the country whose children’s lives were drastically affected by this disease, and are dedicated to supporting meningococcal prevention.
Visit the NMA website for more information and to view powerful personal stories of those affected. Talk to your doctor about vaccination. It could save a life. How I wish those recommendations were in place years ago.
Wall, New Jersey
Note: In the United States, you may know the meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine as either Menactra® or Menveo®. The serogroup B meningococcal vaccine you may recognize as either Bexsero® or Trumenba®.
©2017, updated from 2011, Two Peds in a Pod®