Home » Future of Higher Education » Closing the Deadly Meningitis B Gap

After losing their daughters to a vaccine-preventable disease, Alicia Stillman and Patti Wukovits started the Meningitis B Action Project with the hope that no other family endure what they have.

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.

This omission can have deadly consequences. Stillman and Wukovits both lost their teenage daughters to the disease, which can manifest with flu-like symptoms that worsen with shocking speed.

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.”

Many colleges require the MenACWY vaccine — but few require the MenB vaccine, despite the fact college students are five times as likely to contract this deadly disease and 100% of meningitis outbreaks on college campuses since 2011 are because of Meningitis B. On Jan. 31, 2013, Emily complained about a headache. Just 36 hours later, she was dead.

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 aches and a 101-degree fever. Less than a day later, she was in the emergency room, suffering from intense pain and a purple rash all over her body. She was laid to rest just three days before she was supposed to graduate high school.

The Meningitis B Action Project

There’s little doubt 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 two women hope they can spare other parents the pain they’ve experienced.

“By educating both parents and students on meningitis B, its symptoms, and the vaccine to stop it,” Stillman said, “we have the ability to save other young people from this deadly but preventable disease.”

To learn more about the Meningitis B Action Project, visit meningitisbactionproject.org.

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