October 25, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
CDC urged to expand meningitis vaccine recommendations

John Becker, Bilerico Project, Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

John Becker (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. LGBT rights activist has launched a petition that calls upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend children as young as 6-months-old receive meningitis vaccinations.

John Becker, who is the managing editor of the Bilerico Project, on Oct. 9 launched the petition on Change.org with Julian Siwek, a transgender Minnesota man who lost all of his fingers and most of his feet when he contracted bacterial meningitis as a child. The petition had 14,682 signatories as of deadline.

“I don’t want any other children to have to experience something similar,” Siwek said on Change.org.

Becker told the Blade on Tuesday he decided to launch the petition, in part, because LGBT people – and those with HIV/AIDS who have compromised immune systems in particular – remain vulnerable to bacterial meningitis.

Headaches, fever and a stiff neck are the most common symptoms associated with meningitis. It is spread through respiratory droplets or oral secretions, and the incubation period is typically between three and seven days.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene earlier this year recommended men who have sex with men who live in the five boroughs or visited them to receive a meningitis vaccine after officials reported seven people had died from bacterial meningitis since 2010. The New York State Department of Health in March expanded this list to include MSM and people with HIV/AIDS who have had “intimate contact” with other men since Sept. 1, 2012.

A West Hollywood, Calif., lawyer in April died from bacterial meningitis.

Even though D.C. health officials stressed they had not seen an increase in bacterial meningitis cases in the nation’s capital, Whitman-Walker Health in April recommended gay and bisexual men receive the vaccine.

“Our community has heightened vulnerability as it is, plus the vulnerability that kids under a year old have,” Becker told the Blade, noting there are 115,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. who are raising children. “To me that really magnifies the importance within our own community.”

The CDC recommends adolescents and teenagers between 11-18 should receive two doses of the meningitis vaccine. It also says children who are between 9 and 23-months-old and those with specific medical conditions should receive two doses of the vaccine for “adequate protection.”

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday considered lowering the age threshold for the vaccine.

“I know they’re getting the messages and e-mails that are generated by this position,” Becker said. “Julian and I wanted to demonstrate grassroots support in the LGBT community. It’s clearly resonated so that’s encouraging.”

CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes told the Blade the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices “carefully reviews evidence and considers public perspectives as part of its public deliberation of immunization policy.”

“CDC and the committee appreciate the concerns raised in both petitions and public testimony at today’s meeting,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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