A grieving mother from Michigan has turned to Canada for what she calls a life-saving vaccine that isn't available in the U.S.

Alicia Stillman believes that had her daughter Emily been vaccinated for meningitis B, she would still be alive.

Meningitis B killed 19-year-old Emily Stillman in February 2013. The Kalamazoo College student died within 36 hours of arriving at a hospital with a severe headache, Stillman said.

Since Emily's death, a meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero by Novartis, has been given approval in Canada. At the time of her death, it was available Europe.

'It was a no-brainer. I could fill a bus every day.'- Alicia Stillman

In an effort to honour her daughter and raise awareness, Alicia Stillman started the Emily Stillman Foundation. Six of her daughter's organs were donated and Alicia Stillman has started Operation Windsor.

She recently arranged a bus trip from her West Bloomfield Hills, Mich., home to Windsor, Ont., where about 40 people were vaccinated for meningitis B at a local, independent pharmacy.

"When Canada got it, and our proximity to Windsor, it was a no-brainer," Stillman said. "I could fill a bus every single day and come into Windsor and get this vaccine. People are scared. People want to protect their children."

Her son is scheduled to attend the University of Michigan in the fall.

"I cannot move another child into a dormitory environment without protecting him from everything that I know could be out there. I won't not protect my son," Stillman said.

A full meningitis B vaccination requires two doses. One dose of the vaccine costs $130. Stillman's group will return in June for their second dose.

"I will be back and forth many times this summer. I will be protecting busloads of kids and adults. I will be protecting anybody who wants to be protected," Stillman said.

Bexsero does not require a prescription.

Stillman declined to say which pharmacy she visited because "it's a place of business" and she didn't want to draw media attention to it.

CBC Windsor confirmed with a pharmacist that Stillman's group was provided with the vaccine. The pharmacist declined further comment.

Emily Stillman Bus

About 40 Americans came to Windsor to get a meningitis B vaccination on the weekend. (Emily Stillman Foundation/Facebook)

Dr. Gary Ing, chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital, had not heard about Stillman's group coming to Windsor. He said he has, in the past, had a request from Americans looking for a specific drug.

Ing called Stillman's efforts "very commendable."

He did say there are some concerns about U.S. group vaccinations.

Ing said that, on occasion, there can be an outbreak in Windsor which may require the very vaccine Americans are getting in large groups.

Ing would like to see these kinds of trips become more structured and arranged in advance with public health units.

"In order to make this productive and effective for everybody an organized approach is something I’d like to see," he said.
Ing wants the State of Michigan to work with the Windsor Essex County Health Unit to come up with a plan to coordinate the dissemination of vaccines - on both sides of the border.

From time to time, some vaccines are available in the U.S. that aren't available in Canada, he said.

Ing said Stillman has "raised the meningitis profile."

"We have to be vigilant, we have to be on the lookout for any kind of infection outbreak, no matter how small the potential outbreak could be," Ing said.

In November 2013, Princeton University got special permission from the U.S. government to vaccinate nearly 6,000 students to try to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis.

last month, Bexsero received "breakthrough therapy" designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The designation is intended to expedite the development and review of new medicines that treat serious or life-threatening conditions.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated Bexsero was approved in Australia in February 2013. It was approved in August 2013.
    May 21, 2014 10:36 AM ET
  • A previous version of this story stated Princeton was given special U.S. government permission to vaccinate students in March 2013. It was in November 2013.
    May 21, 2014 10:35 AM ET