Health News : vaccine may be available to children under the age of 5
- Meningitis is a contagious disease that can progress swiftly and result in death within 24 hours, despite its rarity.
- Meningococcal meningitis is more likely to affect teenagers and young adults.
- Tiffani Thiessen is utilizing her celebrity to raise awareness about the importance of immunization in preventing meningococcal meningitis in pre-teens and teenagers.
Tiffani Thiessen is most known for her teen role on the hit comedy Saved by the Bell, in which she played Kelly Kapowski, the top cheerleader and captain of Bayside High School’s volleyball, swim, and softball teams.
Thiessen is now using her leadership skills to advocate for children’s health, like she did in the 1990s. She collaborated with the National Meningitis Association (NMA) and Sanofi on the campaign It’s About Time: Help Stop the Clock on Meningitis to discuss how vaccination is the best defense against meningococcal meningitis, a rare but serious infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Thiessen, a mother of two children aged 11 and 7, is pushing other parents of pre-teens and teens to assist raise rates of potentially life-saving meningococcal meningitis vaccine.
“As a mother, I believe the most important want I have for my children is for them to be secure. The word vaccination has been very much in the forefront in our world in the last few of years… “It might be alarming because there has been a lot of new stuff,” Thiessen told Healthline.
When her kid turned 11 this year, she made sure she had the MenACWY meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against strains A, C, W, and Y of meningococcal meningitis.
“What people don’t realize is that as rare as [meningococcal meningitis] is, it can be incredibly expensive and can kill your child within 24 hours, so I think it’s critical that we do everything we can to protect them, and that includes this vaccination,” Thiessen said.
Krystle Beauchamp is all too aware of this. She collaborated with Thiessen to describe her experience with meningococcal meningitis.
Beauchamp became ill during her final semester of college in 2003. She developed a significant headache, as well as mobility and eyesight issues, as the day progressed. She summoned the courage to sit on a campus bench and phone her parents, who happened to be in town at the time. They took her to an emergency room, where physicians determined that she was pregnant.
“I was in a lot of pain… It’s an illness that progresses quickly. I went from not feeling great when I woke up to being unable to walk and in pain two to three hours later,” Beauchamp told Healthline.
She spent four weeks in the hospital recovering from damage to her liver, spleen, and gall bladder. She was also deafeningly deaf.
“I still deal with some of those effects today,” Beauchamp said, “but for so many people who contract meningitis, we’re talking about amputations, limb loss, organ failure, brain damage, and death, so it’s important to realize that, while I was extremely fortunate, the outcome is so severe for so many others.”
“If I could turn back the time and use the information I have today, knowing what I know now and having gone through the ordeal I went through, I would 100% make sure I got vaccinated,” Beauchamp said.
What is the mechanism of action of the vaccine?
MenACWY and MenB are the two forms of meningococcal vaccinations available in the United States.
“MenACWY is advised for all kids and teens aged 11 and up,” Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician in Chicago, told Healthline. “However, they can sometimes be given to younger children if they have a high risk of having meningococcal disease.”
He went on to say that existing meningococcal meningitis vaccinations have been shown to elicit an immune response and offer some protection against the disease.
“In the United States, rates of meningococcal illness have been dropping and remain low today. According to Cherian, “the existing data strongly suggests that meningitis vaccines help provide protection to individuals who are vaccinated.”
He pointed out that community immunity from the meningococcal vaccination is unlikely to protect unvaccinated persons, so “really the only approach to achieve a level of protection is to be vaccinated,” he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises standard MenACWY immunization at 11 to 12 years old, as well as a booster at 16 years old, when children are at higher risk.
Despite the recommendations, roughly one out of every ten children does not take the first dose, and 45 percent do not receive the second, leaving them exposed and unprotected.
“It’s easier to get 11- to 13-year-olds into the pediatrician’s office, but it’s more difficult to get 16- to 17-year-olds into the office because parents have less control over their teens as they get older.” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told Healthline that “there is a falloff with receiving boosters.”
MenACWY is not the only meningococcal B vaccine available; MenB is a meningococcal B vaccine that protects against meningococcal B. (which has several of its own strains).
The CDC’s advisory committee and the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to Schaffner, made a qualitative decision to tell pediatricians to offer B to patients if they think it’s appropriate because the occurrence of B is so rare and because currently available B vaccines protect against most but not all of the B strains.
For healthy persons, the CDC does not recommend it as a routine immunization.
“It’s more of a question of speaking with your patients and their parents to see if they want it.” “Some pediatricians will initiate the dialogue, while others will wait for parents to do so,” Schaffner explained.
What can parents do?
MenACWY is given by pediatricians on a regular basis, so check with yours to make sure your child is up to current. If you’re worried about MenB, discuss your concerns with your doctor.
For busy parents like Thiessen, she recommended going to the MenACWY campaign website and signing up for an email reminder when their children are due for their first and/or second dose.
She also advised discussing immunizations with your children.
“My daughter was always frightened of getting her routine vaccines done,” Thiessen said. “But in the last couple of years, since we spoke about it so much, she’s grown a lot more relaxed about it because she knows they’re there to help protect her.”
Despite the fact that Beauchamp is not a parent, she uses her narrative to warn parents.
“So many of my mommy friends who knew me when I was sick [use my experience as a] segue into a conversation with their own children about the significance of vaccination and how they know someone who got meningitis,” she said. “Knowing that anyone can contract it is what makes immunization and first-line defense so critical.”