Guest Post by April Young Bennett, Communications Director, Voices for Utah Children
For the first time, Meningitis A will be included among the requisite vaccines for Utah 7th graders during the upcoming school year. This is good news for Utah children. Meningitis kills 10-15% of the people infected and many other victims suffer serious consequences, such as the loss of limbs, nervous system problems, deafness, brain damage and seizures or strokes. While Meningitis B vaccine is not required for school entry, Meningitis B vaccine is also available. Ask your doctor for both vaccines and keep your teens safe from this deadly disease. Reference A
I recently had the opportunity to meet Frankie Milley, whose 18 year-old son died of meningitis. Milley took her son to the doctor shortly after he developed a fever but they could not save him. “I found out there was a vaccine that could have prevented Ryan’s death, and no one had ever told me about it. I knew about meningitis. I knew that it could kill you. …Ryan did not have to die. He should not have died.” Reference B Milley channeled her grief about the death of her son by founding Meningitis Angels, an organization that promotes meningococcal vaccination.
Vaccines have been called “a modern miracle” and “the greatest medical achievement of the twentieth century.” Reference C Thanks to immunization, smallpox has been eradicated from the earth, polio was eradicated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994 and now, in 2015, rubella is the most recent disease to be banished from the Western Hemisphere thanks to vaccination. Reference D
But this miracle depends on us. More parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, leading to a rise in vaccine-preventable disease. Here in Utah, Utah County is of particular concern because a large number of children reside there and vaccination rates are low. Of Utah County schools, 43% are under-vaccinated. In comparison, only 14% of schools in Salt Lake County are under-vaccinated. Reference E Vaccination is required before Kindergarten and 7th grade, but Utah parents may claim exemptions for personal, medical or religious reasons; 95% of exemptions are for personal reasons. Reference F
Frankie Milley is a hero for her work to encourage vaccination. But she never wanted to be a hero. She wanted to be the parent of a living son. She is spreading the word about Meningococcal vaccine so that other families will not have to suffer illness, disability and death from vaccine preventable diseases like meningitis.