WASHINGTON – In a shaky voice that steadied as he spoke, Mike Kepferle told a small Capitol Hill crowd Wednesday how meningitis killed his oldest son, Joseph Patrick, less than 24 hours after he dropped the freshman off at Towson University.
“I could never have imagined the pain that we feel,” Kepferle said, as his wife, Deb, stood tense behind him. “But, I want you to know his story, and the stories of other children who have died, and are dying at a rate of almost one every day.”
Had their son been immunized against meningitis, the Kepferles believe “Pat” might still be alive today. After the 18-year-old’s March 5 death, the St. Mary’s County couple embarked on a grass-roots letter-writing and e-mail campaign, targeting everyone from congressional leaders to talk show hosts, to spread the importance of immunization.
That campaign brought the Kepferles to Washington on Wednesday, where they rallied for approval of an additional $85 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization program.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, asked for the additional funding after an Institute of Medicine report that said the country needs the extra funding to keep pace with record-high numbers of immunizations. Hoyer’s proposed increase, which would be used to support the immunization network in the country as well as buy vaccines, is about half of what the institute estimates is needed.
The funding would be used to support all types of immunizations, not just meningitis. But the Kepferles welcomed the support for immunizations generally, saying education alone will not do the trick.
“You have to have that [meningitis] shot made available,” Deb Kepferle said.
Pat’s death is credited with helping spur Maryland legislators to pass a state law this spring that requires on-campus college students to get a meningitis vaccination or sign a waiver.
But enforcement of the law has been difficult. Capital News Service reported last week that the law, which took effect this summer, left college officials little time to implement a policy governing the immunizations.
The effort, however flawed, comes too late for the Kepferles.
“If Pat were here talking he would have already have met many of you and know you by name. He would have cracked a joke or made a funny face,” his father said. “But I must apologize. for I can’t tell a joke or laugh knowing that we gave up our son for your children.”