You’ve probably seen your fair share of notices about the new state-required MCV4 vaccinations for new students under 30 enrolling in a Texas college or university. Even if you’re a returning student, you should consider getting the vaccination. You’ll need proof of vaccination if you ever skip a semester, or if you transfer to another Texas college or university. Plus, it’s a simple step toward preventing a disease that kills about 10 percent of those who get it, according to the Texas Department of Health.
Know the risks
Now, I’m not trying to scare anyone here. There is no meningitis epidemic underway. TDH states that the risk of getting bacterial meningitis in any given year is about 2.4 cases per 100,000 people for all age groups. Young adults, especially freshmen entering college, are at a slightly higher risk.
At first, that seems like a small risk. I’m more likely to die from a fall in the shower, and I’m less likely to die from a bear attack. So anything that falls in between is usually acceptable to me. But then I remembered that we have about 50,062 students enrolled at TCC this fall. That’s about half of the 100,000, or a ratio 1.2 per 50,000. I know probabilities don’t work like that, but it sounds like pretty good odds that someone at TCC could get bacterial meningitis this year. Don’t be that someone. Get the vaccination.
Numbers don’t matter when it hits home
Besides, risk ratios don’t mean much when you’re the one affected. I personally know two families who have lost loved ones to bacterial meningitis. They don’t take much comfort in knowing that their sons were victims of a relatively rare disease. I knew these boys.
I had never heard of meningococcal meningitis before Jason passed away in 1997. He had just moved into his dorm the weekend before his freshman year was to begin. Late Sunday night, he woke his roommates to tell them he wasn’t feeling well. He had flu-like symptoms, and he was throwing up. When he didn’t stop, they took him to the hospital.
No one’s quite sure why, but the hospital sent him back to the dorm after a few hours. Maybe they thought it was the flu. Or perhaps they chalked it up to typical freshman overindulgence on the first weekend away from home. He slept in while his roommates left for class in the morning. When they returned that afternoon, his condition had worsened. He was throwing up again and he had something that looked like bruises all over his body. He was rushed to the hospital again, but this time it was too late. The 6-foot-1 athlete died on the day he was supposed to begin a new chapter in his life.
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never been to a funeral for a teenager. Hundreds of mourning friends… a family still in shock… so much life… so much potential… gone… in a day. Jason.s mother confided to my wife a couple of years later, “You never look at a sunset quite the same way. Christmas is never the same. There’s just a void there.”
Lightning strikes again
A few years later in 2005, the “small risk” struck again. Austin, the son of some friends of mine, had just begun his freshman year on a baseball scholarship. He pitched a game Friday night and went home to visit his parents for the weekend. At first he complained of having a migraine. But after the pain intensified, he was rushed to the hospital. When I heard at church on Sunday that he was in the hospital with bacterial meningitis, I remember thinking to myself, “This time they caught it soon enough. This time won’t be like Jason.”
But this time was like Jason — all over again. One day later, he was gone. I couldn’t think of anything to say to the grieving family. I avoided them when I saw them. When I finally spoke to them, they admitted that they were hurt by my silence. They love to talk about Austin and they love to remember his legacy. We spent a few hours reminiscing about him and I felt privileged to hear some of their stories. I still mention Austin whenever I run into them. They smile as they remember, but there’s still that void in their eyes.
Just take care of it
Again, I’m not trying to scare anyone. I’m just saying don’t be that void in Mom’s eyes. Don’t be that 1 in 50,000. Get the vaccination. Get it now.