I wish I had the chance to vaccinate my daughter Kimberly. When Kimberly died in 2012 from meningitis B, a vaccine was not available to help protect her. But since 2014, meningitis B vaccination has been available in the United States. I believe she would be alive today if she had had the chance to be vaccinated.
Today, I’m speaking to parents of teens and young adults, urging them to get their child vaccinated against meningitis B. We now have the tools to help prevent death, unnecessary suffering, and life-long disabilities caused by this disease. Why take the chance?
As a mother and a registered nurse, I did everything possible to keep my children healthy—and I was particularly vigilant about vaccinations. Both children were always up to date on all recommended immunizations, including the meningococcal vaccination. Like most parents, I was under the common misconception that the meningococcal vaccine my daughter received would help fully protect her against bacterial meningitis when, in fact, it didn’t offer her any protection against meningitis B. So, I was shocked to learn she was diagnosed with meningitis B, a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can kill a healthy person within 24 hours.
Kimberly was a typical and healthy high school senior, looking forward to prom and graduation. She had dreams of becoming a pediatric nurse and was enrolled in a college nursing program. One afternoon, Kimberly came home complaining of body aches and a fever. Her pediatrician said her symptoms sounded like the flu and to bring her to the office the following morning. The next morning, I saw three tiny purplish dots on one of her ankles, which very quickly became a purplish rash and spread over her entire body before my eyes. I rushed her to the Emergency Room.
Within just a few hours of Kimberly’s first symptoms, she was in the ICU in multi-organ failure and fighting for her life. She had been in class the day before!
Nine days later, Kimberly was declared brain dead, and I had to make the most difficult and painful decision in my entire life to remove my beautiful 17-year-old daughter from life support.
Kimberly was buried three days before her high school graduation in the prom dress she didn’t get to wear.
No parent should bury their child—especially from a vaccine-preventable disease. I haven’t heard Kim’s laughter, felt her warm hugs, seen her vibrant smile, or kissed my gorgeous daughter for five years. There is a hole in my heart that can never be repaired. The heartache is unbearable for my entire family.
Many parents are unaware that two different vaccines are necessary to be fully protected against the five common groups of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. One vaccine (MCV4) helps protect against groups A, C, W and Y, but a second vaccine is needed to help protect against group B. Without adding a separate and additional MenB vaccine, teens and young adults will not be fully protected—in fact, they will be just as protected as Kimberly was. Today, parents have the opportunity I never had: to have their children vaccinated against meningitis B.
Many parents have the common misconception that their children are only at risk for meningitis while in college when, in fact, high school students are at risk too, like Kimberly. Teens and young adults age 16-23 are at increased risk for meningitis because of how the bacteria is spread. Typical social behaviors, such as sharing drinks or utensils, kissing, and being in close quarters, like crowded events or dormitories, may promote transmission of meningococcal disease.
I want parents to know to request MenB vaccination in addition to the more common meningococcal vaccine, so their children can be fully protected against this devastating disease. As a mother who lives every day with the heartache of not seeing my beautiful daughter live the full life she deserved, I know too well how important MenB vaccination is.
I’m urging parents to have a conversation with their child’s health care provider and specifically ask if their child received the separate meningitis B vaccine. I want parents to remember Kimberly’s story if their health care provider advises them that their child only needs protection against meningitis B when they go off to college. Please tell them Kimberly’s story and make sure to get your children vaccinated.
In her honor, I’ve established The Kimberly Coffey Foundation to educate parents and health care professionals about meningococcal disease and the two different vaccines necessary to be protected against the five common types of bacteria that cause this devastating disease – one vaccine for MenACWY and a separate vaccine for MenB.
Patti Wukovits is Executive Director of The Kimberly Coffey Foundation and a Registered Nurse. For more information about Meningitis B and MenB vaccination, please visit the Kimberly Coffey Foundation at kimberlycoffeyfoundation.org and meetmeningitis.com.