Starting Thursday, all public and private school students entering 7th and 12th grades statewide must be vaccinated against meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection known to underlie outbreaks and serious — sometimes lethal — illnesses in teens and young adults.
With the new law, New York joins 27 other states that require meningococcal vaccination for school attendance. Grades 7 and 12 were chosen, state officials said, because they align with the ages recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the first and second doses of the vaccine. The recommended immunization protects against four bacterial forms of the infection — types A, C, W and Y, state health officials said Wednesday.
“Immunizing children and young adults at these ages is critical to protecting them from this potentially fatal and devastating disease,” Dr. Howard Zucker, New York commissioner of health, said in a statement Wednesday.
Dr. Sunil Sood, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, said the bacterial infection has long been a menace among young people and lies at the core of outbreaks in schools.
Young people between ages 11 and 23 are at greatest risk of infection, Sood said, because they frequently indulge in sharing behaviors, such as drinking from the same glass or kissing. The infection is spread through saliva.
“I am always in favor of mandating vaccination,” Sood said, noting that the immunization makes good public health sense. “The idea is that you get one dose around seventh grade, then a second dose five years later when the protection from the first dose starts to wane.
“With the second dose we want it to last at least five years after age 16 because the disease peaks around college age,” Sood said.
Patti Wukovits, founder and executive director of The Kimberly Coffey Foundation in Massapequa Park, knows all too well about the seriousness of meningococcal disease because the infection claimed her 17-year-old daughter’s life shortly before prom and high school graduation in 2012.
The teen was buried in her prom dress, her mom said.
Now that vaccination is mandated for everyone, other parents won’t have to face the heartache that she and her family endured, Wukovits said.
“I am so, so happy that this law was passed. Thrilled,” said Wukovits, who was instrumental in getting the meningococcal vaccination measure on the books. Wukovits said despite being a registered nurse, she was unable to help her daughter who was infected with meningococcal bacteria type B. An immunization against type B was not available until 2014, two years after Kimberly Coffey died. However, the teen had been vaccinated against types A, C, W and Y, Wukovits said.
“I can tell you as surely as I am sitting here: If there was a Men-B vaccine available, she would have been vaccinated,” said Wukovits, who recalls every detail of the day her daughter came home ill from West Islip High School.
“Kimberly came home from school that afternoon with flu-like symptoms,” she said of the initial signs of infection. “The next morning she started to go downhill. It started with a tiny rash on one of her ankles, a tiny pinprick rash.”
Emergency department doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islp recognized meningococcal disease and started antibiotics, Wukovits said, but their heroic efforts were not enough. Kimberly died nine days after entering the hospital.
Wukovits is a leading advocate for vaccination and informs the public through her website: kimberlycoffeyfoundation.org
Sood, meanwhile, said pediatricians who vaccinate youngsters against meningococcal types A, C, W and Y can provide the type B vaccine as well, when parents request it.