This post was authored by Bob Werner, a Team Voices member for Voices of Meningitis™, a meningococcal disease prevention campaign from the National Association of School Nurses in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur.
This time of year always brings back fond memories – it was a time when Becky was so excited to head back to school. And as parents, her mother and I took all the steps we knew of to prepare her for the year ahead, from the time she left for kindergarten, up until when she graduated high school.
We had no idea that we were missing one crucial step. An important conversation all parents need to have with their teen’s healthcare provider, which starts with one question – Has my son/daughter received the meningococcal meningitis vaccination?
This is the disease that claimed Becky’s life. Although rare, it’s a potentially deadly disease which can take a life in as little as 24 hours and teens are at increased risk. This is also a disease that is vaccine preventable.
We didn’t know any of these things back when our kids were teens. And it wasn’t until we lost Becky that we learned that children need two doses of the vaccination to be protected against meningococcal meningitis. In fact, the CDC recommends a first vaccination at age 11 or 12 years old, followed by a second vaccination at age 16 to help protect children during the years in which their risk of contracting the disease is increased.
Despite these recommendations, children are still losing their lives to meningococcal meningitis and those who have been lucky to survive, have perhaps lost limbs, hearing and/or suffered from neurologic damage. Millions of teens are still unvaccinated. A report last month from the CDC showed that while 78.8% of teens received the first dose of the meningococcal vaccination, only 28.5% received the crucial second dose. More needs to be done to improve these rates.
We lost Becky because we knew very little about meningococcal meningitis or that a vaccination might have saved her life. I consider myself an informed parent and take every precaution to keep my children safe, but no one ever told me about the meningitis vaccination. That’s why this back-to-school season, it’s my responsibility to share Becky’s story in the hopes of preventing one more family from losing a child.
I miss Becky every day and I am committed to sharing her story to help other parents protect their children. Through Voices of Meningitis™, a national health initiative from the National Association of School Nurses and Sanofi Pasteur, I am able to do just that — help raise awareness about meningococcal meningitis and the importance of prevention.
It’s time to change the vaccination statistics by turning our conversations into action. So please talk to your child’s healthcare provider to ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations. I know I wish I had.