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Views & Voices

Help pressure the feds to protect your family from meningitis

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Earlier this year, outbreaks of bacterial meningitis cropped up among gay and bisexual men in New York and Los Angeles. Fear gripped gay communities in cities across the country as many men wondered, according to the New York Times, “whether this is AIDS, circa 1981, all over again.”

There was ample reason to worry: bacterial meningitis – the swelling of the lining around the brain and the spinal cord – is a lethal disease. The symptoms come on fast but appear very ordinary; in fact, they so closely resemble the flu that many victims don’t bother to see a doctor. This can have deadly consequences.

vaccineWhat if there was a way to eradicate bacterial meningitis like we eradicated polio? There is, but so far the government has ignored it and I need your help to change that.

Why Meningitis Terrifies Me

Bacterial meningitis has a 10-15% fatality rate, and in some cases, it can kill within hours. Those who survive often suffer serious complications including lost limbs, brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.

To make matters worse, it can be spread through casual contact, including kissing, sneezing, coughing, and sharing items like utensils, drinking glasses, and even cigarettes. Because of this, tight-knit communities like the LGBT community are at greater risk for an outbreak, as are groups of people who live and interact in close quarters.

So when the headlines about bacterial meningitis appeared and comparisons to the early days of the AIDS epidemic started flying around, I was terrified. My husband Michael is my world, and we’ve been fighting for each other and for our equal rights for as long as we’ve been together.

There was no way I wouldn’t fight every bit as hard not to lose him.

Thankfully, a bacterial meningitis vaccine is available that is safe and effective. When health departments in major cities began recommending that all sexually active men who have sex with men receive the vaccine, Michael and I immediately decided to get the shot – even though we’re monogamous. Because of the elevated risk in the LGBT community and the relative ease with which the disease is transmitted, we could still get sick from a shared glass of wine or a goodbye kiss.

As I explained to our doctor, when it comes to my husband’s life, I wasn’t about to take any chances.

So like tens of thousands of others, we received the vaccine. Afterwards I took to social media to talk about my experience (that’s my Instagram photo above) and encourage others to do get the shot, as did many of my LGBT blogger colleagues across the country.

Thanks to aggressive, large-scale, LGBT-specific vaccination programs, we’re making progress in the fight against bacterial meningitis. For example, In New York City – where at least 16,000 people received the vaccine – no new cases of the deadly disease have been reported for months.

Help Me Get the Government to Change Its Mind

There’s still work to be done. One of the most glaring gaps in our defense against bacterial meningitis is the fact that current CDC vaccine recommendations leave infants and children – the group with the highest infection rate for invasive meningococcal disease – dangerously unprotected.

This puts kids across the country at risk of contracting and spreading bacterial meningitis, including in the more than 115,000 households in America where same-sex couples are raising children. It also decreases the herd immunity that people with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV and AIDS, rely on to protect them from the disease.

When it meets later this month, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has an opportunity to fix this. At its October 23-25 meeting in Atlanta, the ACIP will decide whether to recommend the bacterial meningitis vaccine for babies and small children.

I’ve created a petition encouraging them to do so, because I strongly believe that vaccinating more aggressively for bacterial meningitis will protect children and save lives.

Tragically, our LGBT community knows all too well how health crises can spread and become epidemics, and we know from our experiences this year that the best approach to fighting bacterial meningitis is ensuring that the vaccine is made available to everyone.

Please sign my petition urging the ACIP to add the bacterial meningitis vaccine to its list of recommended vaccines for infants and children. We’ve made the feds protect our families before – let’s do it again.

Help make a difference. Sign my petition, and then share this post on Facebook and Twitter.

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16 more reader comments:

  1. thanks for this important information!!

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:06pm
  2. Wow yet another cry for government force instead of personal research and responsibility. And people wonder why though im Bisexual I tend to loath most lgbt activist groups like this one. Bleet on sheep and keep begging for gubbament help rather then act like an adult and do things for yourself.

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:10pm
  3. I am sorry but meningitis being caught isn't like catching an STD. Kids catch it from being in close quarters. It is a terrible disease if you've ever known anyone with it. Usually limbs have to be amputated if the person doesn't die from it. Why don't you go wander into an AIDS hospice and grandstand from your pulpit as well.

    Replied on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:30pm
  4. Let me see if I got this right... you're saying people need to do the research and take responsibility for not contracting meningitis themselves? Do you even know how meningitis is contracted? Here, let me enlighten you: As you can see, one way of contracting meningitis is through a bacteria found in contaminated food, which cannot be controlled by the individual. A single plate of bad food at a restaurant, and they find themselves facing meningitis. Is that their fault? No, it is not. Another way involves getting strep, which is not something people can control. Are you getting the picture? You blamed the individuals of the nation for something they cannot control. That's your prerogative, Daniel, but it won't score you any points with those of us who know better.

    Replied on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:46pm

    Replied on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1:37am
  6. Daniel Lazzara it’s a Public Health issue. So glad I’m living in Toronto and that my country has Universal Health Care paid throughout taxes. I applaud Obamacare!

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:52pm
  7. Daniel English John Micah Pickering im saying that the government should not get involved in forcing vaccination on anyone. Im all for groups like this raisinf awareness and personally going to think about the vaccine myself however whenever the government “suggests” a vaccine for kids which is what the artical advocates it becomes a mandate to attend school which unless you can afford homeschool turns into a requirement to avoid neglect/ abuse charges. Sorry if I feel parents have the right to decide what is or isnt injected into thier children. Also Mr English since AIDS is by and large contracted via foolish behavior ive no pity for the “victims”. If you didnt get it via rape, your parents at birth, a bad blood transfusion, a cheating long term monagamise partner or a needle stick as a medical worker ive not an ounce of pity.

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:04pm
  8. You just prove that heterosexuals haven't cornered the market on being selfish and unjust pricks.

    Replied on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:49pm
  9. Wrong Daniel. You and most of the rest of the gay community just deny their faults and continue wrecklessness

    Replied on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1:36am
  10. Joseph Dahonick sorry if you think like a serf and are ok with the government forcing people to buy something or pay for it for others. I like freedom of choice thank you very much.

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:06pm
  11. Daniel English what because I feel that if a person is dumb enough to get a disease via unsafe behavior they dont deserve pity? Would you pity someone that got died due to driving like an idiot? If you behave in a reckless manner and suffer for it well you brought that on your own head. Please explain the injustice in what I said. Why is it unjust to feel a person ought to be held accountable for thier actions for good or ill?

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:58pm
  12. I tried telling my gay brethren that before and I get labeled a hater. It's a shame most of the gay community cant take responsibility.

    Replied on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1:35am
  13. Thats why people shouldnt sleep around

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 11:17pm
  14. Sleeping around is a sin. If not in gods eyes than in your family and friends eyes

    Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 11:23pm
  15. Sorry, but I will not vaccinate. Do your own research and make a decision that works for your family. Vaccinations are not right for every person.

    Posted on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1:42am
  16. I had my shot and smoked weed right after it was nothing and I had it months ago it’s just like a flu shot I didn’t even know I had it no big deal

    Posted on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 10:10am