‘I never got to say goodbye’: The heartbreak of losing a child to a vaccine-preventable disease
Posted: October 07, 2020 | Word Count: 678
“I received a phone call one day that devastated my life forever. My son, Nico, had been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, and was at the hospital for only eight minutes before losing consciousness. He never woke up — and as a father, I never got to say goodbye.”
GSK spokesperson and meningitis advocate Greg Williams’ son, Nicolis ‘Nico’, was a 20-year-old student at a university in Texas when he contracted meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis.
Nico’s symptoms began with a severe headache after a night out with friends. The next day, Nico’s headache progressed to flu-like symptoms, and after a visit to the student health clinic, he returned home to rest. Hours later, he was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with meningitis B (MenB), which would ultimately cost him his life.
Unfortunately, stories like Nico’s could become more common. The decrease in immunization rates for vaccine-preventable diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic could impact the health of our communities, including schools and students living on college campuses.,
“I’ve probably asked myself a million times why didn’t I know about this disease, and how I could have let this happen,” Greg said.
Although Nico contracted MenB in 2011, before a MenB vaccine became available in 2014, recent CDC data show that still, only about one in five 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the vaccine. According to a 2020 online survey of 1,500 parents by Ipsos for GSK, while most parents are aware that a vaccine exists for meningitis, two in three parents (68%) are unaware that two different types of vaccines are needed to help protect against the most common types of meningitis— A, C, W, Y and B.
While the disease is uncommon, MenB was responsible for all US college meningococcal outbreaks from 2011 through March 2019, which involved 13 campuses, 50 cases, and 2 deaths among an at-risk population of approximately 253,000 students.
Top reasons reported by nearly 700 parents whose children were unvaccinated against MenB were that their child’s doctor never discussed it (31%), and that they did not know enough about MenB vaccination (28%). However, parents reported that, after learning the facts about meningitis, most (70%) said that they were ‘highly motivated’ to vaccinate their child against MenB.
Knowledge is power. Go to www.meningitisB.com to educate yourself about meningitis and the two different types of vaccines needed to help protect your teen against the five vaccine-preventable groups of meningitis — A, C, W, Y and B.
“I hope that after hearing my story, parents will talk to their child’s doctor not only about meningitis vaccines but about all available vaccines. Saying goodbye to Nico was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a father and as a man. We don’t need any more examples of parents who just ‘didn’t know.’”
Vaccination may not protect all recipients. Content sponsored by GSK.
 CDC. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Routine Pediatric Vaccine Ordering and Administration — United States, 2020. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6919e2.htm?s_cid=mm6919e2_w.
 CDC. Vaccination Guidance During a Pandemic. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pandemic-guidance/index.html.
 CDC. National, Regional, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13–17 Years — United States, 2019. MMWR. 2020; 69(33):1109-1116.
 Findings of Ipsos survey conducted in the US during the months of February and March 2020. The survey included 1,500 parents of teens/young adults age 16-23. Funding for the survey was provided by GSK.
 Gary S Marshall, Amanda F Dempsey, Amit Srivastava, Raul E Isturiz, US College Students Are at Increased Risk for Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease, Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, piz024, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpids/piz024
 CDC. Meningococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/mening/public/index.html.