I have cultivated the joy I find in music from the time I was three years old, when I started playing the violin. I could barely wrap my tiny hands around the bow, but I quickly grew to love the emotions and vibrancy I could create with just the touch of my hands, and the process of practicing for many hours every day to achieve the elaborate finger dexterity that the instrument requires.
Twenty years later, I am pursuing a career as a violinist. As a result, my hands are incredibly important to me as the means by which I express myself musically.
Recently, I realized just how much I have taken my hands for granted.
In 2013, I was a junior at Princeton University when an outbreak of meningitis B hit our campus. I didn't know it at the time, but 5 to 10 percent of those who contract the disease don't survive, even with antibiotic treatment. Of those who do, one out of five will suffer life-long disabilities, which can include the loss of extremities such as fingers, hands and arms.
I walked away from the event knowing I was one of the lucky ones. Not only did I manage to avoid contracting the illness, I was the first in line to receive a vaccine to help prevent meningitis B, when the university started holding vaccination clinics across the campus.
As it turns out, vaccinations are really the best way to help protect yourself against the illness. The illness comes on so suddenly that it can be hard to treat once it has started. Even trying to avoid sick people to keep from contracting it doesn't help because many of the carriers of meningitis -- people from whom you can catch the illness -- show no symptoms.
That's why I believe that every adolescent and college-aged student should be vaccinated against meningitis B. Currently, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine vaccination against meningitis A, C, W, Y in these age groups. In the case of meningitis B, it recommends the vaccine be used only in the case of outbreaks or for those at increased risk due to illness -- even though meningitis B accounted for 33 percent of all meningitis cases in 2013.
The sad reality is that by the time an outbreak has started, it is already too late. Lives can be lost and futures can be radically changed. But it doesn't have to be this way. Making meningitis B a routine vaccination for all adolescents and college-aged students would help prevent this.
Yes, I was one of the lucky ones. I still have my fingers and my hands, and I can still create the music that makes my world complete. Now, my hope is that everyone else has the same opportunity.
I urge the CDC to consider the lives at stake and make a broad recommendation for meningitis B vaccines. Let's work together to protect our friends and families from this devastating disease.
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