After losing their daughters, two mothers are calling on parents to make sure their kids have received both types of meningitis vaccines.
Meningococcal meningitis (a deadly swelling of the membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord) is mainly caused by five types of meningococcal bacteria, referred to as A, B, C, W, and Y. Two separate meningitis vaccines are necessary to be fully immunized against the disease, but most children are only vaccinated against the ACWY forms of bacterial meningitis and not against meningitis B. In fact, only 31% of 17-year-olds in the United States received the MenB vaccine in 2021.
Often, the meningitis B vaccine is not required by schools and colleges because of the disease’s relatively low rate of incidence. However, college students are five times as likely as the general population to contract this disease and 100% of meningitis outbreaks on college campuses since 2011 are because of Meningitis B. In short, not requiring this vaccine can have deadly consequences.
Alicia Stillman and Patti Wukovits both lost their teenage daughters to the disease, which can manifest with flu-like symptoms that worsen with shocking speed — it can kill an otherwise healthy person within 24 hours.
At the time, the MenB vaccine was not available in the United States to help protect their daughters.
“I thought my daughter was fully protected against meningitis because she had received the MenACWY vaccine,” Wukovits said. “I was shocked to learn that she was not.”
Emily & Kimberly
Emily Stillman was a sophomore in college in 2013.
“Emily always made me and everyone else around her laugh,” Alicia Stillman recalled. “She was warm, charismatic, and loved spending time with her family and friends.”
On Jan. 31, 2013, Emily complained about a headache. No one even suspected meningitis. Alicia thought it might be the flu, while Emily blamed an all-night studying session and lack of sleep. When her headache worsened, Emily walked to the hospital with her schoolwork, but her symptoms got worse and worse. By the time her family arrived, she was unconscious, and just 36 hours later, she had died.
Kimberly Coffey was a 17-year-old high school senior who dreamed of becoming a pediatric nurse.
“She loved to sing, dance, and perform in school musicals,” Wukovits said. “Her greatest joy was a sunny day at the beach.”
Kimberly came home one day complaining of body aches and a 101-degree fever. Wukovits contacted their doctor, who advised her to bring Kimberly in for an examination if her symptoms weren’t improved by the morning.
Less than a day later, she was in the emergency room, suffering from intense pain and a purple rash all over her body. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, her organs were failing. She was laid to rest just three days before she was supposed to graduate high school.
It’s likely that both Emily and Kimberly would be alive today if they had been vaccinated against meningitis B. Stillman and Wukovits founded the Meningitis B Action Project in order to educate parents and students about the disease and the need for two types of meningitis vaccines to help protect against the most common types of bacterial meningitis in young adults.
The speed with which meningitis can advance from initial symptoms to fatality means that it’s very difficult to treat after the fact, making immunization the main line of defense against the disease.
The two women hope they can spare other families the pain they’ve experienced.
“By educating both parents and students on meningitis B, its symptoms, and the vaccine to help stop it,” Stillman said, “we have the ability to save other young people from this deadly but preventable disease.”
For educational resources and to learn more about meningitis B, visit meningitisbactionproject.org.