Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Vaccines Can Stop the Deadly Effects of Meningitis

Deadly diseases often strike quickly and without warning, leaving behind heartbroken families and so many unanswered questions. In our modern world we are fortunate to have access to vaccines, providing us the incredible opportunity to prevent a disease before it infects and kills.

One of the most beneficial of these is the vaccine for bacterial meningitis, a potentially fatal disease infecting the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis affects an estimated 4,000 people each year in our country. Tragically, approximately 10 percent of these cases are fatal, and those who do survive often suffer lasting, life-changing side effects including permanent hearing loss, brain injury, loss of limbs and other serious complications.

In 2009, we lost our 18-year-old daughter to bacterial meningitis. Lawson went from a vibrant, full-of-life, extremely healthy young woman to life support and death within 36 hours. Her situation started out with a headache. She had experienced migraines in the past, so we were not overly concerned. When her condition deteriorated and she became rather lethargic, we took her to the emergency room. Several hours later, a spinal tap revealed bacterial meningitis had infected our daughter. Within hours she was suffering a life-threatening health crisis. Doctors put her on life support.

Lawson did not survive. It devastated our family and changed our lives forever. We hope we can help prevent other families from experiencing the horrific impact of this killer by advocating prevention, education and awareness.

Students entering Florida’s public universities are required to receive information about and recommendations for meningitis and hepatitis B vaccines, but state law makes it easy to complete a waiver to opt out of this requirement. Every year we learn of new cases of bacterial meningitis in one or more of our state universities. In many instances, these might have been prevented through vaccination.

The challenge is complicated by the fact that bacterial meningitis is a constantly evolving disease. Last year saw an increase in cases specific to the serogroup B bacteria in our universities nationwide – including one case at the University of Florida. But there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine just recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although this new vaccine has won FDA approval, it still has little chance of reaching the public at large without a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

While our state lawmakers can work to better protect Florida’s children, the current effort rests in the laps of the federal officials who make up ACIP. The committee’s work falls under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is responsible for recommending which vaccines should be administered to specific populations. A recommendation for this vaccine has the potential to protect even more young people from the terrible effects of meningitis. ACIP should ensure that these vaccines are as accessible to at-risk populations as possible.

As a parent who has lost a child to bacterial meningitis, I can’t stress enough the importance of vaccination, education and awareness. To continue to prevent the spread of this devastating disease it is crucial to ensure that every Floridian has access to meningitis vaccinations and realizes how important they are to the health and well-being of our young people.

Cathy Mayfield is a Tallahassee resident who lost her daughter to bacterial meningitis in 2009. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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