“Were your kids vaccinated for meningitis?” my father asked as I picked up the phone tonight. He’s always asking me questions like this after seeing something or other in the news or on Facebook. He’s a good Grandpa that way.
“Sure,” I said with some relief. “Our doctor strongly recommended it before camp. Turns out a lot of sleepaway camps require it if you go more than a few days. So both of my girls got them done. Why do you ask?”
“Your stepmother is paying a condolence call to a friend,” he said. It was not at all what I was expecting.
“His 11-year-old son died at sleepaway camp this week.”
At that, I could hardly speak. Not even to ask questions. My dad’s words started running together, and I realized I didn’t have the slightest idea what he was saying anymore.
“Let me call you back,” I said, hanging up abruptly.
I thought I was going to throw up.
I still feel sick, even as I type this now.
I had dropped my youngest daughter at camp this past weekend.
Parenting is a dance in a way — a balancing act between the pervasive worry that serves to keep our kids safe, and total 100% denial that serves to keep us from going insane.
And so we temper our worries. We send our kids off and we worry about homesickness. Mosquito bites. Sunburn. Bee stings. We worry about swimming accidents (minor ones) and horseback riding falls (maybe a twisted ankle) and skinned knees and possibly a bad summer flu. We worry about lice. But we never let our minds go much beyond that.
Then you hear a story like this one.
By all accounts, these were great parents. Adoring, loving, wonderful parents. I don’t know the facts. Maybe they didn’t have a doctor who talked to them about the Meningococcal Vaccine. Maybe they didn’t have a camp that required them. Maybe his state doesn’t recommend them at his age. (Edited to add: This is the most likely scenario; he was not old enough for them to be required by state law.) I have no idea; it doesn’t even matter now, and I don’t want to ask. I imagine they feel enough guilt and horror without the internet piling on. So I hope no one goes there.
(Though someone will. Because, the internet.)
I hope that we can mourn for a family who lost a little boy this week in a horrible, unimaginable tragedy. And I hope that in his memory, we can commit to science, commit to facts, commit to spreading the word that vaccinations help children.
Here’s me doing my part:
Please vaccinate your kids.
Please, please, please.
States, please consider your recommendations: New York State requires all camps to inform parents and about recommendations for the Meningococcal Vaccine for all campers attending 7 more nights of overnight camp. Most states are not so stringent, and if parents don’t know, they can’t make choices. On top of that, administering this vaccine to children before college years is a relatively new recommendation, meaning a lot of the info parents received years ago may be out of date.
And anti-vaxxers? Kindly shut it before you kill people.
(There. I said it. And I’m talking to you, celebrity anti-vaxxers with your massive platforms that you’re totally misusing. Just, stop.)
Vaccines save lives. Vaccines save children’s lives. There is even a term for diseases like Mumps and Measles, Polio and Meningitis:
They’re called vaccine-preventable diseases.
And some of them are coming back.
Measles and whooping cough are coming back. How insane is that? How totally, absurdly stupid is that?
(It is a lot stupid, according to my decidedly non-scientific assessment.)
So let’s get smarter together.
We can start with this list of CDC recommended vaccines by disease and by age. And yes, there are some people who shouldn’t get certain vaccines; there’s a CDC list of them too. Please, read up on all of it. Because maybe you just don’t know about meningitis or HPV or Tdap vaccines. That’s okay. This is how we learn.
I’m no expert; even though I have been a UN Foundation shot@life ambassador and attended expert speeches and panels, I don’t know nearly enough either.
In fact my youngest daughter, who’s been to sleepaway camp for the past three years, wasn’t vaccinated for meningitis until this very summer
And maybe that’s why I feel so sick.
This post has been lightly edited, including the addition of information that every state has different recommendations for Meningitis Vaccinations by age or grade level, with still different recommendations based on risk. Do research and make your own best decisions.
And above all, much love and peace to the families impacted by this tragedy.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS: We rarely have to say this because our community is so awesome but it bears repeating: Respectful debate and thoughtful discussion is welcome. Ad hominem attacks and disproven conspiracy theories will be deleted.
I am just wondering, do you know for a fact that this child was not vaccinated?
Ugh. I seriously just went and double-checked my daughters’ forms. So awful. That poor kid. And Anti-Vaxxers fill me with white-hot rage.
Thank you for posting this article! I DO vaccinate my children! I am crazy when it comes to using toxic Ingredients in our personal care products, and about eating organic foods, but I would NEVER want my child to get an illness or disease that is preventable by getting a vaccine. My son just went to the pediatrician for his 11 year well visit last week and said that by the time he goes into 7th grade (he is going into 6th), or if he is going away to camp, he needs the dTap and meningococcal vaccine. My son freaked of course, because he had a tennis tournament the next day and said his arm would be too sore. I said he needed to do one now, and he can get the other at the end of the summer when we do his sports physical. The nurse did the dTap, but my husband who is a family physician blasted me for not doing the meningococcal vaccine first. He said that meningitis is far more dangerous, and I should have made our son suck it up and get both. After reading this, I am bringing him back this week to get the vaccine and not wait until it is required for school. Keep spreading your message…especially before the kids head back to school in the fall!
So incredibly sad for the family, and your message is on point. I am not sure if I would have thought to take my child to the doctor’s office to get a recommendation before camp unless it was recommended by the camp. I get my medical advice from a doctor who graduated from medical school, not alternative facts by Dr. Google. It’s up to all of us to make our own decisions, but they should be informed by reliable sources.
I have a PhD in a field of Public Health so I am as pro vaccine as they come. I am a mom who has sent her children to sleep away camps for many years. I am also an Aunt whose nephews are at this camp. And finally, I have written posts or things that have been posted online. So the thing is I believe I have an understanding about where you are coming from. Although you state in your piece that you are not coming out against these parents in regards to vaccination, the tone of this piece implies that you are, because implicit in your writing is the fact that this child would be alive if he were vaccinated. Here is where you go astray. We don’t know his medical status, his vaccination status, or even more than the basic details about what happened, and so however well intentioned, it seems to me that you are using this tragedy to promote vaccination. I understand being inspired by an event, good or bad,to write about it. And while your piece makes valid points about vaccination, what your piece truly forgets is that there is a family grieving a horrible tragedy this week, who may one day read this piece, and be made to feel even more horrible.
I realize opinions are like a**holes, but I have to say I don’t think she’s bashing the parents who are experiencing the most horrific tragedy imaginable; I think she’s informing those of us who may not have known this was a possibility. As a mom who just picked up my son from a 2 week sleepaway camp, and had NO IDEA this was a vaccine one should get pre-sleepaway camp, I read this as a, “BTW, this happened. I don’t want this to happen to your child.” I thought my kids were up on all of their vaccines, but now I’m calling my pediatrician to make sure.
My heart is breaking for this family, and I think that sentiment is clear in this piece as well.
Thank you April. The last thing I’d ever do is blame or bash the family; that thought is very upsetting. There are any number of horrible circumstances that came into play in this unfortunate tragedy.
However when children die from gunshots, we talk about gun safety. When children die in car crashes we talk about seat belts and car seats. When children die from eating detergent pods we talk about childproofing. When children die from SIDS we talk about crib safety. And when children die from VPDs, we talk about vaccines.
I’m glad to hear from so many parents that they’ve learned something they didn’t previously know or that they’re looking into it more. That’s all I can hope for.
THIS (it’s also much larger that just being an “anti-vaxxer”. it’s about who controls our health, our lives, our choices… it’s about where the money goes and what lies we are being sold. “And anti-vaxxers? Kindly shut it before you kill people.” this sort of arrogant, ignorant hubris isn’t going to win any anti-vaxxers over, i can guarantee that. )
This is devastating, lots of prayers for the effected family. I would like to add something about the vaccine. My 8 yrs old was diagnosed with meningitis last month although the was vaccinated. There are a number of viruses and bacteria that are not covered by meningococcal vaccine.
Some of them are aggressive and life threatening. My son recovered in 10 days as his virus was self containing.
Thanks for sharing that Saira. So grateful for his healthy outcome.
My son is turning 11 this week, and has his next annual visit next week. I’ve already warned him he’s getting three vaccines this time around–because it’s that time.
Dhume’s quick death was a shock to the family, especially because the healthy teenager had previously been vaccinated for bacterial meningitis.
This 2011 story is utterly tragic in every way. No vaccine is 100% effective but I think my job as a parent is to give my kids the best possible chance in life. Seatbelts, car seats, bike helmets, tick spray, suntan lotion … none of these are 100% effective against the worst case scenario. But I will continue to advocate for all of them because science proves out the odds and the exceptions to the rules don’t dictate my safety standards. -Liz