Grant Partner InFocus: The Immunization Partnership

Learn how parents who lost children to a vaccine-preventable disease are helping the nonprofit educate the community and lawmakers about the importance of vaccinations.

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Nico Williams had recently returned to Texas A&M University after winter break when he started feeling sick. The 20-year-old economics major from Sugar Land thought he was just battling the flu.

Turns out, the battle was much bigger.

Nico was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. In just hours, he went from feeling sick to being in the hospital to being placed on life support. After three days and every possible treatment, Nico died.

“It’s just an unbelievable experience to have to go through to watch your child die,” said Greg Williams, Nico’s father. “Particularly when it’s something that could have been prevented.”

Nico died in February, 2011. Back then, Texas law only required freshman students living on a college campus to be vaccinated for bacterial meningitis.  Nico lived in an off-campus apartment and had not received the vaccine.

“I had just lost my child and didn’t know a thing about the law, loopholes or vaccinations,” Greg said. “I was totally lost.” 

That’s when Greg found The Immunization Partnership (TIP). The nonprofit is based in Katy and works statewide to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating for evidence-based public policy and promoting best practices.

When TIP leaders told Greg about the loophole in the meningitis vaccination law,  Greg was determined to change it.

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“They (TIP) were instrumental in enlightening me on getting a bill passed so the law would make sure all students, not just those living on campus, would be vaccinated against this disease,” Greg said. “Without TIP, we never would have changed that law.”

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The Texas Legislature passed the Jamie Schanbaum and Nicolis Williams Act later in 2011. The law requires all first-time college students to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. The disease is most common in people ages 16 to 21.

“It’s our responsibility to inspire people to advocate about the value and invisible power vaccines have,” said Rekha Lakshmanan, TIP’s director of advocacy and policy. “We’ve seen more Texans speak up about vaccines to ensure our communities stay healthy.”

EHF’s $100,000 grant to TIP helps provide general operating support for the organization’s efforts to engage partners, promote immunizations, and advocate for policy change with state lawmakers. TIP’s activities include organizing education forums and town hall meetings, building community-based coalitions, releasing research reports, and much more. 

“Their focus on increasing rates of immunization across Texas and providing community mobilization on policy issues supports EHF’s belief that timely childhood and adult immunizations are an essential component of comprehensive primary care,” said Katy Butterwick, EHF program officer.

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TIP supporters and other advocates for immunizations gathered at the Texas Capitol building in March to speak with lawmakers.

TIP’s work at the community-level improves knowledge about the importance of vaccines. The organization’s policy work proposes recommendations and solutions to lawmakers to either maintain or improve immunization rates across Texas.

After Nico’s death, spreading the word about the importance of vaccinations has become Greg Williams’ lifelong mission.

“My son’s death gave me purpose,” Greg said. “As a parent who lost a child to a vaccine-preventable disease, I want parents and students to know they take a very big risk if they’re not vaccinated. I always tell them, ‘I want to show you why, because I don’t want you to be in my position.’”

Click here to learn more about The Immunization Partnership