2 bills that could save lives

Photo by Cooper Neill

As families who have dealt with meningitis, we understand all too well the pain wrought by this terrible disease. 

Greg is the parent of a college student who died from meningitis. Patsy is the mother of Jamie, a student who survived the disease but lost both legs and several fingers.

All Texas families can learn the critical and fundamental importance of vaccinations from our experiences, and we take seriously our responsibility to promote vaccines.

Meningitis is a fast-killing disease that can be fatal to an average healthy individual within 24 hours. While the disease is rare, surviving it is even rarer, and many survivors are permanently scarred or disfigured. Jamie not only survived meningitis but also recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and she is traveling the world to encourage other young people to protect themselves against preventable diseases.

The Texas Legislature is again debating immunization policies, and a small but loud group of anti-immunization activists has again appeared at the Capitol. While all Texans are entitled to their own opinion, protecting the health and safety of all children should take precedence over any personal agendas. For families affected by these terrible and preventable diseases, vaccines aren’t a fad — they’re the foundation of basic, cost-effective health care. 

All Texans should have the ability to protect their children from disease and to help those children become protected adults. That’s why we ask the Texas Legislature to listen to science and prioritize Senate Bill 298 by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and House Bill 2171 by state Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville. This legislation would make it easier for us to protect our children by easing college admission and making sure that all children have access to their shot records as they transition to adulthood.  

Meningitis doesn’t wait for college. A student at Kingwood High School near Houston recently died from the disease. Watson’s bill would implement guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add a meningitis booster in high school, helping to prevent more needless deaths among young students. 

The bill would also ensure that students have the meningitis shot required for college admission. Texas was the first state in the country to require meningitis vaccination for college students and is already seeing a surge in immunization rates thanks to highly successful meningitis laws. And under Watson’s bill, because the cost of the immunization can be high, the federal government’s Vaccines for Children program — not students or the state — would pick up the tab.

Sheffield’s bill would help young adults maintain access to their immunization records. Currently, the state’s immunization registry only gives young adults one year to ask the state to not delete their shot history. With Sheffield’s bill, Texans would have until their 26th birthday to opt to keep their immunization records on file for later use for employment and college admission. In an ideal world, 18-year-olds would care about their shot records. Sheffield’s bill would simply give young adults more time to opt in to the registry as adults.

As the 2015 Texas legislative session begins to wind down, it’s critical that lawmakers prioritize these bills. It is not an exaggeration to say that they would save lives. Hundreds of thousands of Texans would immediately get the protection we know they need. 

Our families were touched by a preventable disease. Help us make sure fewer families share our experience.

Jamie Schanbaum

Meningitis awareness advocate

Patsy Schanbaum

Mother of meningitis survivor

Greg Williams

Immunization advocate