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With just mandatory vaccine, your teen isn't protected from all meningitis

Posted August 29

— North Carolina requires public school students to get vaccinated against meningitis, but doctors warn that may not be enough to fully protect children from infection. Parents may want to ask their doctor for two meningitis vaccines.

Kimberly Coffey was a senior in high school when she came home with a slight fever and body aches. Her mother thought she had the flu.

"Kim was a very kind person, very compassionate, very, very silly. She was the most wonderful daughter," her mother, Patti Wukovits, said.

"She has three tiny purple dots on one of her ankles, and I'm a registered nurse, so I knew that something was going on with her blood.”

Wukovits rushed her to the emergency room.

"When I got her into the emergency room, the doctors told me that they suspected Kimberly has bacterial meningitis, and I told them, 'That's not possible. My daughter has been vaccinated,'" she said.

But the vaccine most teens get only covers 4-strain meningitis. It does not protect against meningitis B.

"We actually buried Kimberly in her prom dress that she didn't get to wear at their senior prom just two days before high school graduation," Wukovits said.

When she died, there was no vaccine for meningitis B, but now there is a separate shot that parents have to specifically ask for.

"The organism itself is unique in some ways which is why it has its own vaccine. But the disease caused by all of the meningitis types, that disease is really very similar," Dr. William Valenti said.

Nearly half of all meningitis cases are type B, but because the vaccine is relatively new, it's not yet mandatory

"Over time, we'll gain sort of a stronger recognition and become a part of the regular vaccine recommendations for young people," Valenti said.

For now, parents have to take the lead. Wukovits said her mission is to reach and educate as many parents as possible.

"It has helped me with my grieving process," Wukovits said. "It has helped me turn something horrific into something positive where I can hopefully help people.”

There are currently two vaccines for meningitis B that are approved by the FDA.

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