With a new vaccine, the end is in sight for deadly Meningitis B
A Shot in the Light for Canadian Families
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In August of last year, soccer enthusiasts in Barrie, Ontario enjoyed an All Star Soccer Challenge that came with a bonus. Parents and athletes received information about deadly Meningococcal Meningitis and the prevention of this vicious disease through vaccination.
One honored guest at the event was Katie Grassie of Keswick, Ontario. Katie is the mother of Keaton Grassie, who contracted Meningitis at age nine, and a tireless advocate for Meningitis education.
Keaton, now a teenager, is in turn a tireless advocate for swimming and scooters – despite loosing both legs and suffering damage to his arms in his bout with what now is a preventable disease.
Bacterial Meningitis is an infection of brain and spinal fluid that can cause death, sepsis or gangrene within 24 hours, and “Men C” and “Men B” are its most prevalent strains. A “C” vaccine has been used successfully for a decade, but Men B proved elusive due to the nature of the “B” bacteria. Researchers have spent years and billions of dollars trying to fill the Men B vaccine vacuum.
Fortunately for Canadian families, a long-awaited vaccine against this vicious and aggressive form of Meningitis is finally here.
Eighty percent of Canadian infants and 68% of adolescents affected by Meningitis are victims of the B strain. It is the most common life-threatening infectious disease in infants under one year old and can kill 10% of its victims within a day.
Fast and furious, Men B also mimics the flu. Symptoms include headache, stiff neck and fever. Infants and young children display lethargy, irritability and lack of appetite—symptoms easily mistaken for teething, colic or flu by parents and physician alike.
Men B often attacks faster than parents can drive. When minutes count, the emergency room can be hours away as waits for care in emergency departments can sometimes take several hours. And a child with “flu” is unlikely to be at the top of the triage list.
A child’s body can be covered with blisters within minutes of the first spot. Within hours, gangrene can set into little arms and legs. A recent report on Meningitis B by the World Health Organization noted; “Even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment started, 5% to 10% of patients die within 24 to 48 hours.”
The only way to avoid “too late” is to vaccinate.
Thankfully, a new Men B vaccine is awaiting approval from Health Canada. Clinical trials have found it to be highly affective in infants, toddlers and adolescents, producing an optimal immune response with very few, mild side effects. The vaccine is syringe-friendly with other childhood inoculations and can be delivered with currently scheduled shots. It is effective when given to older children, teens and adults in what physicians call “catch up” shots.
Men B occurs in unpredictable clusters, such as the deadly one that hit Quebec in the winter of 2004/2005. Fortunately, the disease is not as common as the common cold, as in Canada, 10 – 20 of every 100 Meningitis patients die, and 25% of these within 48 hours. More than half its victims are under five.
The program of Men C vaccinations that Canada began in 2002 demonstrates their considerable effectiveness as provinces experienced a drop of 65 – 80% in the number of “C” cases.
Now that its preventable, even one case of Men B is one case too many.
Too many children die too fast when struck with the disease. The emotional, physical and financial toll on the family—and the cost to the healthcare system for a lifetime of care —can be astronomical. As Keaton grows, new prosthetics will be needed, and a new pair can cost more than $65,000.
Katie Grassie often talks about being unaware about the seriousness of Meningitis before Keaton became sick, and has made it her mission to ensure that Canadian families are educated on the disease.
Canadian doctors are thrilled that the long awaited Men B vaccine is finally in the inoculation queue. Health Canada and provincial health plans must ensure that it not languish on the doorsteps of their formularies as bean counters debate its value.
It must be made available as soon as possible. To do less would be unconscionable.
Kerri Toloczko was a long time resident of Ontario and is currently Vice President of Policy at Institute for Liberty, a free-market public policy organization in Washington, DC where she specializes in healthcare policy and issues of children’s health.
Kerri Toloczko is a Senior Analyst with the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-partisan, non-profit partnership forged to strengthen manufacturing in America by a select group of leading U.S. manufacturers and the United Steelworkers.
Readers may write her at AAM, 727 Fifteenth St NW,
Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005