Shots are safe
On behalf of the National Meningitis Association (NMA), I would like to comment on Gary L. Nielson's letter to the editor, entitled "Dark Side to Shots," published on July 17, 2007. As a parent who has suffered the loss of a child to meningococcal disease, commonly referred to as meningitis, I feel it is critical for your publication to alert parents to the devastating nature of the disease and the availability of immunization so your readers can make informed decisions about protecting their children.
Sadly, my family knows the devastating effects of meningococcal disease. In 1998, my 20-year-old son, Evan, died after a 26-day battle with meningococcal disease. Evan was a healthy, active college student when the disease took his life. It wasn't until after he died that we learned a vaccine was available that may have saved his life.
Nielson's letter includes a number of inaccuracies regarding meningococcal disease and vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year meningococcal disease strikes nearly 3,000 Americans and more than 60 percent of these cases are in people 11 years of age and older. The disease rate among 11-19 year olds is higher than in the general population. Even with quick medical treatment, 10 to 14 percent of those infected with the disease will die, often within 48 hours of first symptoms. In addition, up to 20 percent of those who survive will endure long-term disabilities, including brain damage, hearing loss, kidney failure and/or amputation of arms, legs, fingers and toes.
Vaccines are available to provide protection against four of the five disease strains that cause meningococcal disease worldwide. In fact, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices now recommends meningococcal vaccination for all adolescents 11-18 years of age because of their risk for contracting the disease.
According to the CDC, vaccination is safe and the best way to prevent meningococcal disease. In addition, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have not found evidence demonstrating a causal link between Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and meningococcal immunization. A majority of health experts agree the benefits vaccination far outweigh any risks potentially associated with GBS.
Meningococcal disease wasn't rare enough for my family and for thousands of other families affected by the disease each year in the U.S. I urge parents of adolescents and young adults talk to their child's health care provider about meningococcal disease and prevention. My son didn't have to die.
Executive Director, National Meningitis Association