ROCHESTER — A heartbroken mother has a strong warning for parents who are getting ready to send their kids back to school. While New York state law requires kids going into 7th and 12th grade receive a meningitis vaccine, Patti Wukovits says, it may not be enough to fully protect your child.
Wukovits’ daughter, Kimberly Coffey, was fully vaccinated but died of meningitis B at the age of 17. Protection against type B is not offered in the mandated vaccine — a separate shot is required.
“Kim was a kind person, very compassionate, very silly, she was the most wonderful daughter,” Wukovits says.
Kimberly was a senior in high school when she came home with a slight fever and body aches. Her mom thought Kim had the flu but the next morning: “She had three tiny purple dots on one of her ankles and I’m a registered nurse so I knew that something was going on with her blood,” she says.
The two rushed to the hospital. “When I got her into the emergency room, the doctors told me they suspected Kimberly had bacterial meningitis and I told them that’s not possible my daughter’s been vaccinated,” recalls Wukovits.
But it was possible because the vaccine Kim had, which is what most teens get here in New York, only covers four strains of meningitis. It doesn’t protect against meningitis B and that is what ended up taking Kim’s life.
“We actually buried Kimberly in her prom dress that she didn’t get to wear to her senior prom, just two days before high school graduation,” her mother tells News10NBC.
When Kim died, there was no vaccine for meningitis B but now there is. It’s a separate shot for teenagers, one that parents have to specifically ask for.
“The organism itself is unique in some ways which is why it has its own vaccine but the disease caused by all meningitis types… is really similar,” says Dr. William Valenti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health.
In fact, nearly half of all meningitis cases are type B but because the vaccine is relatively new, it’s not yet mandatory here. “Over time, it will gain sort of a stronger recognition and become a part of the regular vaccine recommendations for young people…ask for it and if for some reason your family doctor or pediatrician can’t get it, they should be able to at least refer you to a place where you can get it,” says Dr. Valenti.
The vaccine is normally given at the same time a 12th grader gets a booster shot of the original meningitis vaccine. If insurance doesn’t cover the cost, it’s normally only around $25. To spread the word and honor Kim’s memory, Wukovits started the Kimberly Coffey Foundation. “It has helped me with my grieving process, it has helped me turn something horrific into something positive where I can hopefully help people,” she says. For more information: http://www.kimberlycoffeyfoundation.org/