Recent Cases of Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease Reinforce Need for U.S. Vaccine: A Statement from the National Meningitis Association

24 Sep

Every case of serogroup B meningococcal disease, like the recent case at Georgetown University, is an important reminder that there is an unmet public health need in the prevention of bacterial meningitis in the U.S. Please take a moment to watch this important message from NMA President Lynn Bozof.

A Physician’s Perspective

21 Aug

As a parent who lost a child to a vaccine-preventable disease, I share my story as often as I can to help others learn about the importance of immunization. In my role as president of the National Meningitis Association, I also attend health and medical conferences to encourage healthcare professionals to take an active role in increasing adolescent vaccination efforts in their practices.

Often at these events, a physician, nurse or other healthcare professional will tell me that they saw a case of meningococcal disease as many as 20-30 years ago. They say the infection was so devastating that they will never forget how important it is to prevent it through vaccination. But they worry that, because meningococcal disease is rare, colleagues who have never seen a case will be less attentive to ensuring adolescent patients are vaccinated.

Recently, an article by Dr. Kristie Rivers reminded me of these stories. The routine childhood immunization program has become so successful in the U.S. that once common, deadly or disabling diseases are now so rare that healthcare professionals may have a hard time recognizing them. Unfortunately with the decline in parents who choose to fully vaccinate their children, these illnesses are making a resurgence—a change that Dr. Rivers has witnessed in her 10 years as a practicing pediatrician.

I hope you take a moment to read her perspective and share this informative article with any healthcare professionals that you know as well as parents. Together we can help make sure more all of our children get all of the protection available to them today.

College Health 101: Check the Meningitis Booster Off Your List

8 Aug

Last month the CDC shared some good and bad news. While more U.S. teens are receiving their first dose of meningococcal vaccine than ever before (77.8%, up from 74% in 2012), only 29.6% also received the recommended booster.

The booster dose is recommended for all teens at age 16 because the protection they received from the first dose begins to wear off over time. It’s critical that kids receive the booster before they head off to college, where irregular sleep schedules, dorm life and crowded social events can challenge their immune system and put them at greater risk for meningitis.

I lost my son Evan to meningitis when he was a 20-year-old college junior. When Evan left for college, meningococcal vaccination was not routinely recommended or readily available. I had no idea that adolescents were at risk for meningitis or that it was potentially preventable. Now, every parent has a chance to help protect their child by making sure their teen is fully vaccinated before leaving for campus.

Every parent and college student should also become familiar with the symptoms of meningitis. While vaccination offers the best chance of protection, it is not 100 percent effective, and there are some strains of the infection that are not covered by currently available vaccines.

If you’re helping a teen or young adult prepare to leave for school, it can be easy to forget things. The National Meningitis Association created this checklist of important reminders to help both you and your teen. Please use and share this resource with the college-bound students in your life. And please don’t forget the pre-college meningitis booster!

Check List


A Teary Day That Never Ends

17 Mar

I try to block it out.  I try to keep busy.  But it won’t go away.   It will never go away.  I think I am doing okay, and then something triggers the waterfall of tears.  Shouldn’t they all be gone by now?  It’s been almost 16 years, but the tears will never be gone.  I look at a picture of my two sons, taken just a few months before Evan died from meningococcal disease.

Evan and Ryan, 1997

Evan and Ryan, 1997

I think, I wish, that I had more pictures.  How was I to know that I missed opportunities to capture the special bond between two brothers who loved each other more than you can believe?  I thought I had a lifetime for pictures, for memories, but I didn’t.  And now, I can’t go back and get more pictures.  I have to live with the memories and what pictures I have.  I share the picture with my daughter-in-law, who never knew Evan.  She is angry that this disease took away her chance to meet her husband’s brother and for her children to have Uncle Evan around.  My husband and I just want our son back, and it will never happen.  My family will never be complete.

Never forget how precious this life is.

5 Jan

kasey's_picture_of_kimIt’s not always the parents, children, and siblings who grieve when someone is lost.  Sometimes friends, in-laws, and others share in the grief.  My daughter-in-law did not even know my son who died, but she grieves his loss, nevertheless.  The poignant words below were written by Kimberly Coffey’s sister-in-law.  Her words resonated with me, and I hope they do with you as well.

This weekend would be the 19th birthday on Earth of my beautiful sister-in-law Kimberly Coffey.

I would like to use this post to talk about how precious and amazing our lives are. We are here on Earth for a blip, the blink of an eye; let’s always make sure we use that time to LIVE, REALLY LIVE. I know, I know it is easy to sit at your computer screen and read this post and say I will! But, really, get out there. Incredible sunrises, beautiful sunsets and full bright, beautiful days await you; every day is a new chance to do whatever you want to do. No matter your circumstances, no matter where you live do what you can to make every day count. Smile at strangers, laugh at jokes, don’t let the negativity get to you. Be the brightest light in the room. Shine, shine, shine. Be kind and love unconditionally. Give second chances Do what you can to show your family you ADORE them. Paradise may await us after this life, but we have a pretty little bit of paradise here on Earth, don’t we? Celebrate your chance to breathe this air, celebrate every second you have with the people, animals and the land you love. Know that every day is a new beginning. Get outside every day and thank whatever or whoever put us here. You are incredible. You can change the world, your world, a little bit. Get out there and do it. I have faith in you.

Kim’s life on Earth was bright beyond belief. She brightened the lives of people around her every single day. When her life here was cut short by a rare (no vaccine is available yet) strain of Meningitis, our world was devastated, shaken to the core. I had the incredible chance of knowing her for a small bit of time and I cherish every memory I have of her. She was hysterically funny, incredibly smart and a shining beacon of love and life; so much life in such a young girl. I try to live like her every day. She was confident, beautiful and kind.

Even though Kim was vaccinated against Meningitis, there exists no vaccine for the B-strain which she caught on an off-chance. However, the other strains of Meningitis are a REAL threat and there is a vaccine for these strains. Meningitis attacks and kills bright lights like Kim every single day. Meningitis can kill in under 24 hours with no symptoms more than those of influenza. The importance of this vaccine is undeniable. You can save your life, and the lives of others (if you’re a carrier, others can contract it from you). Honor my gorgeous sister-in-law’s life (and birthday) and get vaccinated.

Get involved with the National Meningitis Association however you can and donate whatever you have (even a dollar will do) to help them get the word out about the dangers involved with meningococcal disease. Thank you in advance, please spread the word. Honor Kim and her incredible life.

We love you Kim, Happy Birthday!

They lost their daughters to Meningitis B – Read Their Stories

21 Nov

Alicia and Patti both lost their daughters to meningitis B recently. They support Princeton University’s decision to recommend the meningitis B vaccine to its students in response to an outbreak. Their daughters were vaccinated with the current vaccine which does not protect against the B strain. They look forward to a time when vaccines are available against all active strains of the disease. We hope you read their stories.

Alicia’s Story:

My daughter Emily was 19 years-old when she contracted meningococcal meningitis. She was a sophomore at a small private liberal arts college called Kalamazoo College. She passed away on February 2nd of this year. Despite valiant efforts to save her life, she was declared brain dead within 36 hours of walking into the hospital complaining of a headache. They tried everything, including a craniotomy, to relieve the swelling caused by the disease. Nothing worked.

Emily had been vaccinated, but she had the B serogroup, which wasn’t covered by the vaccine. I was not aware that the current vaccines don’t prevent all strains of the disease. I take some comfort that I did everything in my power to protect her at that time. But, as a mom who lost my child to the B strain, I would have given anything for an opportunity to further protect Emily. I would certainly want my other children to have access to a vaccine that could protect them during an outbreak.

I don’t know how my Emily got the disease. The truth of the matter is that most cases of meningitis occur through exposure to an asymptomatic carrier.

It is so important for all students, faculty and families to learn about the symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek prompt medical attention. It is especially important because the infection can be mistaken for other illnesses. Emily started out with a headache. If I had known the symptoms I would have sent her to the hospital when she first complained of a headache. Emily’s headache was misdiagnosed for a migraine, which delayed treatment.

I got involved with the National Meningitis Association to help educate and protect other families.

Patti’s story:

In June of 2012, my beautiful daughter, Kim, was a healthy 17-year-old senior in high school – excited about her upcoming high school graduation and prom. She came home from school complaining of body aches and a temperature of 101. I called her pediatrician whose recommendation was to bring her to the office the next morning because it sounded to him to be possibly strep throat or the flu. As a mother and a nurse, I agreed with his recommendation.

When we woke the following morning, she told me she felt as though her “ankles were bleeding.” When I looked at her ankles there was a very small rash on one. The rash had purplish spots. I immediately took her to the pediatrician. By the time I got her there, she was lethargic and in pain and the rash starting appearing on other parts of her body. She also had broken blood vessels in one of her eyes. The doctor called an ambulance.

Kim was diagnosed with meningococcemia – meaning the meningococcal bacteria had invaded her blood. By the time she was admitted to the hospital, some of her vital organs (heart, lungs, kidneys) were already failing as they were attacked by the meningococcal bacteria via her bloodstream. The circulation to her extremities was very poor.

My daughter fought for her life over the next ten days. Even though she was treated immediately and aggressively with excellent care, she was eventually declared brain dead. If she had not been declared brain dead and survived, she would have undergone amputations of both hands and feet and would likely have been on kidney dialysis.

Kim didn’t have the classic symptoms of meningococcal disease just hours before going into the hospital. She didn’t have a stiff neck. She didn’t have a bad headache. She wasn’t sensitive to light. She didn’t have a rash initially. She wasn’t confused. She had body aches and a fever of 101. That’s it. AND she was vaccinated. I thought she was safe. But she contracted serogroup B which the current U.S. vaccine does not protect against. This bacteria is so aggressive and invades the body so rapidly. In my daughter’s case, quick medical intervention could not save her.

If I were the parent of a Princeton student, I’d be grateful my child had access to the serogroup B vaccine during this outbreak. As a parent who lost a child to serogroup B meningitis, I look forward to the licensure and hopefully broad availability of this vaccine.

Universal Immunization Symbol

14 Nov

Universal Immunization Symbol


Good news! The universal immunization symbol is ready and available for use by all immunization advocates.

It is designed for all immunization organizations and advocates to display as a way to show solidarity in their awareness of and support for immunization.

The concept is that, just as a pink ribbon is associated with breast cancer, and a puzzle piece with autism, so this image is the recognized symbol of immunization. Organizations are encouraged to work together and use this symbol as a statement of broad support of immunization.

It is a reflection of all of our voices and is a solid addition to each organization’s individual image library. The symbol does not replace organizational or campaign logos, but is rather a symbol to be used when we wish to collectively present a united front in support of immunization.

The symbol’s use is limited only by our imaginations. It’s envisioned that the image will be used on anything from Web sites, brochures and other print materials, to T-shirts, pins, and social media sites.

In the spring of 2013, immunization coalitions around the country voiced a desire for a universal symbol. Putting thought into action, a small group representing the coalitions worked together to identify several potential designs.  These designs were put forward, and through a public vote, this symbol was chosen.

The umbrella, representing protection of the community, tells the story of the power of immunizations. The symbol, in several formats, is housed on Google Docs, and is available to all immunization advocates as a free download.

In addition to the logo in full color, black, or white, there is also a Style Guide and Read Me guide on how to download and use the symbol:

For questions, please contact one of the following:

Joanne C. Sullivan, RN, BSN

Pennsylvania Immunization Coalition


Lynn Bozof

National Meningitis Association


Litjen (L.J) Tan, MS, PhD

Immunization Action Coalition


Trish Parnell



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