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Local School Nurses Unite Community to Combat Low Meningitis Vaccination Rates among Preteens and Teens in Seattle and King County

SEATTLE, Oct. 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Low rates of meningococcal vaccination among adolescents in Washington has triggered King County Executive Dow Constantine, Neighborcare Health and the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington (IACW) to join forces with the School Nurses Organization of Washington (SNOW) to declare today King County Meningitis Awareness Day. A recent national public health survey shows that meningococcal vaccination rates among adolescents in Washington have increased by nearly 30 percent from 2008 to 2010; however, nearly one-third of adolescents in Washington still have not been vaccinated against meningococcal disease.  This is far below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' goal of 80 percent vaccination coverage for this age group.  

Meningococcal disease, which includes meningitis, may be rare, but it's often devastating and can take the life of an otherwise healthy child in just a single day.  Preteens and teens are at greater risk for meningitis than other age groups, and are recommended for vaccination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This coalition of local community organizations is lending their support to the National Association of School Nurses' (NASN) Voices of Meningitis campaign, an effort to increase meningitis vaccination rates among preteens and teens in Seattle and King County.  

"It is not necessary in this day and age for a child to suffer a disability or lose their life as a result of a vaccine-preventable disease like meningitis," said Cynthia Shurtleff, chair of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington.

"That's why we strongly encourage parents to get their preteens and teens vaccinated – it is a safe and effective way to help prevent this serious disease," added Janet Cady, pediatric nurse practitioner, assistant medical director, Neighborcare Health.  

Parents Urged to Vaccinate Preteens and Teens

Parents should be aware that common behaviors among adolescents – like spending long periods of time with large groups and sharing water bottles or drinking glasses – can put them at risk of contracting meningitis. A new survey commissioned by NASN and Sanofi Pasteur confirms that although preteens and teens are aware that these activities may put them at risk, they continue to engage in them:

  • 80 percent are aware that at least one of the following activities may increase their risk for getting meningitis: kissing on the lips, attending sleep-away camp or boarding school, regularly not getting enough sleep, or sharing water bottles, eating utensils or drinking glasses
  • Yet, nearly 82 percent report having engaged in at least one of these activities

According to Robin Fleming, school nurse, Seattle Public Schools, and NASN director, SNOW, these findings showcase how critical meningococcal vaccination is for teens.  "These results suggest that we can't prevent preteens and teens from engaging in everyday activities that put them at risk for meningitis.  However, parents can help ensure their children are protected by getting them vaccinated against meningitis; the risk is too great to leave to chance."

"I didn't know how devastating this disease can be, until my family experienced it firsthand," said Ron Albrecht, who lost his son Drew to the disease when Drew was 15 years old.  "Other families need to know this disease may be prevented through vaccination.  I do not want another family to experience what we went through."

About Voices of Meningitis

Voices of Meningitis brings together the many "voices" of meningitis – school nurses, parents whose children have been affected by the disease, survivors of meningococcal meningitis, and public health professionals – to raise awareness about the dangers of meningococcal meningitis and the importance of prevention for preteen and teenage children.  

Voices of Meningitis includes educational materials for the public and health-care providers, as well as a public service campaign featuring school nurses, disease survivors, and families affected by meningitis. The campaign also features a comprehensive website,, where visitors can hear the compelling stories of families that have been personally affected by meningitis and access educational information about the disease and the importance of vaccination.  The campaign also includes a Facebook page, Raise Your Voice Against Meningitis, where users can learn about the disease and pledge to vaccinate their children.

Voices of Meningitis is a program of NASN in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi-Aventis Group.

About Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection that can cause meningitis (swelling of the brain or spinal cord) or meningococcemia (blood infection). The disease can be spread through common everyday activities, such as sharing drinking glasses, living in close quarters like dormitories, and kissing. Meningococcal disease can be hard to recognize, especially in its early stages, because symptoms are similar to those of more common viral illnesses.  Unlike more common illnesses, the disease can progress quickly and may cause death or disability in just a single day. In the United States, about 10 percent of the 1000 to 2600 Americans who get meningitis each year will die. For survivors, one in five is left with serious medical problems, including amputation of limbs, brain damage, deafness and organ damage.

Public health officials recommend meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens beginning at age 11, with a booster dose by 18 years of age. Vaccines are available for people who wish to reduce their risk for contracting the disease.  Parents can arrange to have their children vaccinated during any health care visit, including routine visits and sports physicals. In Seattle, thanks to the Families & Education Levy (up for renewal in November 2011), any middle school or high school with a school-based health center can usually provide immunizations for students.

About the Survey

The telephone survey was conducted by Gfk Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications on behalf of NASN and Sanofi Pasteur among a national random digit dial (RDD) sample of 420 mothers with children 11 through 17 years of age and 400 11- through 17-year-olds. All interviews were conducted April 1-10, 2011. The data were weighted to match key demographics in the national population. The margin of error for survey sample of 11- through 17-year-olds and mothers is, on average, +/- 5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

About the National Association of School Nurses

NASN is a non-profit specialty nursing organization, organized in 1968 and incorporated in 1977, representing school nurses exclusively.  NASN has over 14,000 members and 51 affiliates, including the District of Columbia and overseas.  The mission of NASN is "to improve the health and educational success of children and youth by developing and providing leadership to advance the school nursing practice."  

For More Information

For more information about the Voices of Meningitis educational initiative, visit  For information about NASN, visit or call 866-627-6767.  For state specific information, select "Affiliate Organizations" under "QUICKLINKS" on NASN homepage.  For information about SNOW, visit   For more information about the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington visit

SOURCE National Association of School Nurses
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