The Meningitis Outbreak

By Robert Williams

If you don't know already, we are in the midst of a deadly Meningitis outbreak in Los Angeles and public health officials are urging gay and bisexual men, especially those with HIV, to get meningitis vaccinations. I knew about the outbreak and I also knew someone who several years ago was foaming at the mouth at Equinox Sunset Plaza and few hours later died of Meningitis, so I decided to hightail it to my doctors office to get the vaccine.    

My HIV specialist and infectious disease doctor doesn’t stock the vaccine in his office. Instead he writes a script and the vaccine is to be administered by a pharmacist. My top-dollar United Healthcare insurance plan completely excludes the vaccine if dispensed by a pharmacist. My doctor wants me to get the vaccine and then a second booster shot 8 weeks later at a total out-of-pocket cost of close to $400. $400 for a vaccine is ridiculous.

This got me thinking. What kind of public health policy restricts access to a deadly, extremely contagious vaccine in the midst of an outbreak to a high-risk person with a compromised immune system? Without the vaccine and if infected, I could be like a Meningitis torpedo contagion, spraying my sick all over the chest press at Equinox Sunset Plaza and communicating death to some of the most beautiful people in Los Angeles. Fabio works out there and losing him would be a national tragedy and I would be to blame. That would be bad and definitely not a cute way to go. I definitely need this vaccine.  

It makes no sense my expensive health plan won’t cover the vaccine. What makes even less sense is The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover preventive services like vaccines, yet it is not covered. Insurance companies have found a nice little loop hole by only covering the vaccines if stocked by the doctors office while most doctors offices are no longer stocking many injectables.

I could have paid the $400 but instead I went to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. After a 3 hour long wait (it sounds worse than it was as I used their free Wi-Fi to watch Transparent on my iPhone), I was able to get the shot at no charge. In 8 weeks, I’ll go back for my booster shot. While waiting, I wondered about the people being turned away after all 30 of the first-come, first-serve appointments for the evening were taken. Did they have an expensive health plan like me and just needed a free shot or were they needing critical medical care? 

If you want to expand access to Meningitis vaccinations, please sign Robert's petition:

This article originally appeared in Pride LA