Patti Wukovits still thinks about how she had to bury her daughter in her prom dress.
In June 2012, 17-year-old Kimberly Coffey had a fever and body aches. She told her mom it felt like her ankles were bleeding. When Wukovits looked, she noticed a purple rash.
Wukovits, a nurse from Long Island, rushed Kimberly to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with meningitis. Her kidneys and heart were failing. They could do little to help her.
Kimberly died days before her high school graduation.
“Our whole world changed,” Wukovits said. “There’s not one day, one hour that goes by that I really don’t think about her. She’s always on top of my mind.”
Wukovits was confused about how Kimberly could have meningitis. She had followed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and made sure her daughter had been vaccinated.
Doctors explained that while Kimberly had protection with the MenACWY vaccine, a shot that the CDC recommends adolescents get when they turn 11 or 12, the vaccine only protected against four groups of meningococcal bacteria. The meningitis Kimberly’s doctors diagnosed her with, meningitis B, belonged to a group not covered in the shot. At the time, there was no vaccine to protect her against meningitis B.
On Wednesday, the CDC’s independent vaccine advisors recommended a new vaccine that could potentially prevent someone like Kimberly from getting sick.
Pfizer’s new pentavalent meningococcal vaccine, Penbraya, protects against five kinds of bacteria and could soon be an option that offers people broad protection from meningococcal disease with fewer shots.
Meningococcal disease, including meningitis, is an uncommon illness caused by the bacteria neisseria meningitidis, that can include infection in the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can be deadly or leave someone with a lifetime of medical problems such as memory and concentration issues, seizures, balance problems, hearing loss and blindness. The disease can also lead to a serious blood infection called septicemia or blood poisoning. Research shows an estimated 1 in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis is fatal.
Antibiotics can fight the bacteria, but the infection has to be caught extremely early for that medicine to work. However, diagnosis is often delayed because the symptoms can mimic other infectious diseases like Covid-19 or the flu. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, trouble waking, stiff neck, a skin rash, sensitivity to light and brain fog.