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Meningitis tragedy

There are many stories in the news that keep me awake at night, but the sudden death of a high school senior of meningitis last week was especially heartbreaking.

Eighteen-year-old Christopher Valdes was at school, Coral Reef Senior High, on Thursday. On Friday morning, he was gone.

It was a jarring reminder to parents of teens that bacterial meningitis, an infection around the brain and spinal cord, is most common in the 16-21 age group (and babies under a year old). There is a vaccine, required by most colleges and some summer camps, but not for K-12 schools.

Officials at the Miami-Dade County Health Department said numerous students have come to its clinic in the past week, requesting the first meningitis vaccine or a booster.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends kids get the first shot at age 11 and a booster at 16.

The vaccine has been around since 2005 (a different manufacturer licensed another one in 2010) and protects against four kinds of bacterial meningitis, not every strain.

The Miami-Dade and Broward health departments provide vaccines for free for kids under 18. For an appointment in Dade, call 786-845-0550. Broward locations are online here.

Charlene Pacenti is the editor of