Voices for Utah Children recently led a discussion on a ruling that requires all Utah seventh graders at public schools to receive the Meningococcal vaccination.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that can quickly attack the body, resulting in amputation, seizures, brain damage, blindness, deafness and death. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately 2,600 people a year contract this disease per year, and 10–15 percent of cases are fatal.
Frankie Milley, founder and national executive director of Meningitis Angels, was the keynote speaker at the May 2 event. Meningitis Angels is a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate about meningitis. Milley founded the organization after she lost her 18-year-old son to meningitis in 1998. She supported the Utah vaccine ruling and shared her son’s story.
“How can we pick and choose who lives and dies in this country (by withholding) this vaccine?” Milley asked. “This country panicked with Ebola. Ebola is not nearly as treacherous as meningitis.”
Various Utah healthcare experts and institute representatives participated in the conversation at the event. They discussed why this vaccination is not popular and why it is not required in every U.S. state.
Milley contended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not deem the vaccination as “cost effective.” And without a CDC recommendation there is little to no accessibility.
Milley said the vaccine is approved for all age groups but is not recommended for children under twelve years old. However, she added, there are no known side effects of the vaccine for young children, and 30 percent of meningitis cases take place in children under 2 years old.
Another explanation for lack of meningitis vaccinations across the country was given by Canyon School District Nurse Lisa Gee. Gee explained that the research was published in the late 1990s by The Lancet, suggesting a link between vaccinations and autism. Since then, this research has been retracted because, Gee said, many people still categorize vaccinations and autism in their minds, even though there is no proven link.
Gee also explained that there are loopholes to avoiding the meningitis vaccination requirement. “It is federal law that public schools cannot turn away homeless students, regardless of vaccinations. It is considered discriminatory to do so,” Gee said.
Gee explained that while the Utah state health department can take action, including waiving medical fees and driving students to and from the doctors office, it is hard to keep track of the medical records of homeless children.
The vaccination ruling went into effect on Dec. 1, 2014. “There are so many things we cannot prevent,” Milley said. “But we can prevent this.”