Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mandatory Vaccine for Deadly Bacterial Meningitis Sparks Debate

MSNBC has an online column (See: about the debate over requiring entering college students to have the vaccine against believe parents should be able to choose which vaccinations they — or their children — receive. . Opponents of mandating the vaccine believe parents should be able to choose which vaccinations they — or their children — receive. Having nearly lost my oldest daughter to meningococcal meningitis in 1999, my personal view is that only a fool would not have their child receive the vaccine. I would urge any readers who are the parents of high school or college students or college age themselves to get the vaccine. While rare, the devastation that this disease can do even if not fatal is horrific, and the financial costs of treatment can be likewise devastating even if one comes through with a full recovery. Without a doubt, the experience with my daughter's experience with meningitis was probably the worse experience in my life to date. Here are some highlights from the MSNBC column:
Meningococcal meningitis strikes fewer than 3,000 people in the United States each year, many of them college students or children under age 1. But while the bacterial infection is relatively rare, it’s also deadly, killing 10 to 12 percent of those it infects, sometimes within hours. The disease attacks and shuts down major organs and prevents blood from circulating to limbs, causing tissue to die. Among survivors, 20 percent suffer brain damage, kidney disease, loss of hearing or sight, limb amputations or other severe complications.
A growing grassroots movement is pushing for more states to require the shot. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Menactra for kids ages 11 to 18, but only 12 percent of teenagers got the vaccine in 2006.
But the disease can be horrific when it does strike. It happens so quickly’The disease’s hard-to-spot symptoms and rapid progression make meningococcal meningitis a “great fear” for doctors, says Dr. Tom Clark, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The symptoms are devastatingly easy to overlook, to dismiss as something minor.
When Lynn Bozof’s son Evan was a teenager, there was a meningitis outbreak in a neighboring county. Evan was worried, and he asked his mom if he should get the vaccination. “‘Mom, how do I know if I’ve got meningitis?’” Bozof recalls her son asking. And she remembers her reply: “Oh Evan, you don’t need to worry about meningitis!” But five years later, as a junior at Georgia Southwestern University in 1998, Evan called his mom complaining of a migraine. It got so bad that he went to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with meningitis and placed in intensive care. His kidneys shut down. His liver stopped functioning. Both arms and legs had to be amputated. After a 26-day fight against the disease, Evan died. Bozof says, “Just because this disease is rare doesn’t mean it’s not going to affect you or someone you know.”
Many of those advocating for mandatory vaccinations are parents, including Frankie Milley, who have lost children to meningitis. Nine years ago, her 18-year-old son, Ryan, died of the disease, and since then, she has worked in her home state of Texas to make meningitis education available to all families. She also supported a bill currently being considered by the Texas Legislature that would require college students to get the vaccine.
Dr. Jim Turner, the executive director for the department of student health at the University of Virginia, was skeptical in 2001 when Virginia passed a law mandating that all students attending four-year universities must get the vaccination or sign a waiver. He thought most students would just choose to sign the waiver. But it seems that education about the disease has motivated many to get the vaccine. He’s seen the numbers climb from 55 percent of students getting vaccinated to 95 percent.

“It’s a safe vaccination, it’s an effective vaccination, and it’s one of those terrible, terrible risks — albeit extremely rare — that you can really minimize by spending money on the vaccine,” says Turner, who is also the chair of the Vaccines Preventable Diseases Committee for the American College Health Association. The vaccine is generally covered by insurance and costs around $120 on most college campuses.
In fairness, I have to comment that one of those who helped push the 2001 Virginia law requiring the vaccine was then state Senator Ed Schrock with whom I had discussed the need for the legislation.

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