KENT COUNTY, Mich. - The Kent County Health Department is asking high school students to 'vaccinate before you graduate,' with the help of a mother who lost her child to a vaccine preventable disease.
Parents have been vaccinating their children against the meningococcal infection for decades. However, the vaccine for one of the most deadly forms, Meningitis B, came to the U.S. in 2015. Unfortunately, that was two years too late for Alicia Stillman's daughter, Emily.
"In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday and in other ways, it feels like a lifetime since I've heard her voice or her laugh," Stillman said at a joint press conference with the Health Department Tuesday afternoon. "It was a Thursday when she [Emily] called me with a headache, a simple headache. My daughter was braindead within 30 hours."
18-year-old Emily Stillman, a sophomore at Kalamazoo College, died after a vicious and unexpected fight with Meningitis B. Her mother is now joining forces with the KCHD, sharing her story to encourage others to vaccinate against Meningitis B before high school graduation.
"Meningitis B is one of the most common and most dangerous forms of the bacteria," said Adam London, a Health Officer with the KCHD. "This is a deadly disease that most often affects the people between the ages of 17-23. Every year there are about 375 cases of the disease in the U.S. We have on average about one or two of these cases in Kent. Co."
In addition to getting vaccinated for Meningitis B, the health department's recommendations go a step further than what's required by the State of Michigan.
In order to go to school, children don't have to get the Meningitis B vaccine, nor are they required to get a handful of other immunizations like the flu or HPV vaccine. The state's vaccine requirements are limited to other serious diseases like Measels, Mumps, Hepatitis B and Polio. But Mary Wisinski, Immunization Program Supervisor with the health dept. says it's not enough.
"That's the minimum needed to protect our kids, and I don't ever want to go by minimum requirements," Wisinski said. "So we only request what's recommended and that's everything the CDC feels would keep our kids safe."
Four years after losing her own daughter to a vaccine preventable disease, Alicia Stillman has made it her life's work to educate and help others around the world, starting the Emily Stillman Foundation.
"That's why I'm standing here today, to urge parents and high school students, especially the seniors going to college or University to vaccinate before they graduate," Stillman said.
The health department recommends parents contact their health providers for information on the Meningitis B vaccine, asking parents to do their due diligence by doing their own research into vaccinations as well.