Larimer meningococcal deaths impetus for Wyoming vaccine bill

Sometimes the tragic passing of those afflicted by an illness can move others so much that it inspires them to do all they can to prevent similar deaths from happening in other places. 

Nearly four years after 20 year-old Sierra Krizman of Loveland died of bacterial meningitis, a group of Casper, Wyo., high school students heard about her story and of Fort Collins’ 2010 meningococcal disease outbreak. Krizman’s story inspired the students to write a bill a Casper lawmaker carried in the Wyoming Senate that, if passed, will mandate a state-funded meningococcal vaccine for all Cowboy State teens.

The disease, which spreads via saliva, often strikes teens and young adults who live in close quarters.

 “A lot of Roosevelt (High) School students are 18 or in that age range from 11-22, and it’s so close to our age, and we’re all getting ready to go to college,” said Roosevelt High School senior Sierra Sterling, 18, who testified this week before a Wyoming Senate committee to urge them to pass the bill. “It’s scary to think it could kill us in less than 24 hours. It hit home with us.”

 Many families, she said, can’t afford the vaccine, and the bill would require the state to provide an inoculation for free.

 The bill sailed through the Wyoming Senate Labor Committee and now awaits a hearing the Senate Appropriations Committee.

 “I think Wyoming has kind of taken a lead,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Landen, a Casper Republican. “There was a bill passed in 2006 to make this vaccine available. This is the next step to make sure our kids are protected.”

 Optimistic that the bill will prevail in the Legislature, Landen said Wyoming has been paying attention to the spate of meningococcal disease deaths in Northern Colorado since Krizman died in 2007.

“That kind of thing could happen anywhere,” he said. “It’s a very deadly disease. It’s one of the most feared infectious diseases we have.”

Inspired by the good reception the bill has received so far in the Wyoming Senate, Krizman’s mother, Lisa Krizman, said she’s going to begin laying the groundwork to mount a similar effort in Colorado beginning in the spring.

“It’s just so important, we’re going to go and try and get it passed,” she said. “We’ll send letters soon to legislators and try and meet with them in May right after Sierra’s Race.”

The 5 kilometer run and walk, scheduled for April 30 in Loveland, benefits Sierra’s Race Against Meningitis, which promotes meningococcal disease awareness and vaccination in Northern Colorado.

Lisa Krizman said she hopes to watch Wyoming legislators vote on the students’ bill in Cheyenne.

“It’s so amazing these kids took it upon themselves and took it a step further,” she said. “It’s really awesome on their part.”

By Bobby Magill • • January 27, 2011


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