After recent outbreaks, it's a question many are asking. Do I need a meningitis vaccine? For many, the answer is yes.
“Meningitis is a highly-contagious, fast-moving disease that leads to death in 20 percent of cases,” says Anthony Hayes, Public Affairs and Policy Vice President at Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Meningitis is a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord that can lead to death — even with treatment.
“People living with HIV and AIDS,” Hayes adds, “are at greater risk than the general population of acquiring the infection.”
HIV-positive people aren’t just more susceptible to the disease; they are also more likely to die if infected. In fact, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that over half (55 percent) of bacterial meningitis infections that occurred in the city from August 2010 to March 2013 were among people with HIV. A greater proportion of deaths also occurred among those who were HIV-positive (32 percent) than those who were HIV-negative (20 percent).
That is one of the reasons GMHC has prioritized fighting the disease. The organization led public education, outreach, and vaccination efforts to help end a meningitis outbreak in 2012. Not content in simply making the vaccine available at GMHC’s clinic, the organization went beyond their doors to stem the New York outbreak. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis and Dr. Frank Spinnelli, two doctors on GMHC’s board, provided over 2,600 vaccinations in bars and clubs in the city as well as on Fire Island.
Since then, GMC has lobbied tirelessly for legislation requiring meningitis vaccinations for children. The HIV organization also teamed-up with dozens of other groups, local politicians, and even family members of those who’ve died of the disease — like Kevin Cummines, whose fiancee, Kyle Spidle, was one of the first HIV-positive gay men to die in the 2012 outbreak.
Last year, GMHC’s pressure helped push a meningitis vaccine bill through the New York State Legislature. With the new law, New York has become the 29th state to require meningitis vaccinations for youth in public schools, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previously, New York State only required colleges and universities to provide education about meningitis and offer the vaccine to incoming students.
“Meningitis is a silent killer,” GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie said in a written statement announcing the passage of the New York law. “But gratefully there is a vaccine that is safe, effective, and life-saving.”
“We urge [everyone], including those living with HIV and AIDS, to get vaccinated and protect themselves,” Hayes concludes now.