I had just had the final injection in my Men B vaccination series and the nurse had handed me a detailed leaflet about the disease.
I had just had the final injection in my Men B vaccination series and the nurse had handed me a detailed leaflet about the disease. It has been almost five years since I lost my cousin Emily to meningitis. The vaccine I have just had was not available when she was alive.
It is sometimes said that time is a healer, but I don't agree. Maybe over time the grief you feel changes, maybe you feel different, but time cannot heal a wound that was caused so suddenly and so unjustly.
Losing my cousin
It was New Year's Day 2014. My family and I rose early and drove to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. Up until that point, truly, I did not believe anything really bad would happen. I am an optimist by nature. When I walked through the doors to the small room where my family were gathered, something changed my mind. It was quiet, people were barely speaking. Then my dad walked into the room, crying. He said it was bad, that they didn't think she would make it.
My cousin Emily had contracted Men B and it had killed her in six hours. There was no rash or signs you might automatically associate with the disease. She had felt a bit unwell the night before and when she had tried to get up in the morning, she had collapsed.
One message my family and I work hard to tell everyone is to get vaccinated. Don't take this lightly. This is a dangerous disease. Since the day we lost Emily, we have been raising awareness of the meningitis vaccinations that are currently available, and fighting for those that are private to be made available on the NHS.
Fighting for free vaccinations
Very soon after Emily died, my family and I decided we wanted to do something in her memory and to prevent the same thing happening to others. So, we set up a fund for people to donate to – the Emily Styles Forever Fund – and we began collecting signatures for our petition.
The petition asked for the Men B jab, a relatively new vaccine, to be made available on the NHS for all age groups. We collected paper signatures and triggered an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, which took place in July 2014. While adjournment debates in themselves do not often lead directly to change, they do raise the issue in the mind of MPs.
While Men B is not yet offered for free to all ages, progress has been made. Babies are now offered it for free at eight and sixteen weeks, with a booster at one year. For now, anyone else who wants this particular vaccine must pay. It costs £220 in total, £110 per dose, and you can get it done at your local surgery or just at a Boots store by booking in.
I will not rest until the vaccination is offered to all age groups for free, especially the groups who are at higher risk of contracting it, including teenagers and university students. While I would urge anyone who can possibly find the money to get it done, this is not enough. There should be a free vaccine for this deadly disease.
While my family and I fight to spread awareness of Men B and raise money for charities like Meningitis Now, we are also spreading the word that some meningitis vaccines are free for many eligible people. I want everyone to know about the Men ACWY vaccine and the Men C vaccine.
Men C is offered to babies after their first birthday as part of the NHS vaccination programme, while the ACWY vaccine is offered to teenagers and new university students, as they are at a higher risk than other groups, because of mixing closely with lots of new people who may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria. You can check whether you have had either of these in your medical records.
I know these things sit on our to-do lists, forever getting pushed to the bottom, a promise to ourselves that we will get around to them one day. I’m guilty of that too - But this isn’t that yoga class you wanted to try out or the magazine subscription you keep meaning to cancel. This is your life.
Emily and I were wonderfully close. We travelled together and grew up together. There isn’t one second that I don’t miss her. I hope my story will prevent others from going through the same thing.