“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. 

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