Soleil Moon Frye and Melissa Joan Hart rose to stardom on some of our favorite TV shows growing up, from Punky Brewster and Clarissa Explains It All to playing best friends-slash-roommates on Sabrina the Teenage Witch — a role pairing that couldn’t have fit them better, considering their real-life friendship.
Now as parents (Frye has four kids, Hart has three), they’re still close confidantes, with Frye calling Hart “one of the closest people in my life.” That means, like many moms, they’re constantly in communication about their parenting experiences. “We’re always talking about the ins and outs of parenting from safety to medical to, ‘my teenager’s doing this right now, my little one’s doing this right now,” Hart tells SheKnows.
That’s why it felt natural for the two stars to collaborate together on a new project: the Ask2BSure campaign to raise awareness for the meningitis B vaccine.
What Is Meningitis B?
A quick primer: meningitis occurs when there is inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord, according to the CDC. It’s uncommon but can be very serious, sometimes causing life-threatening complications and even death. Some groups of meningitis, fortunately, can be prevented by vaccines — but two different kinds of vaccines are necessary to cover them: one vaccine protects from groups A, C, W, and Y, and the other protects for group B.
The second, aka the meningitis B vaccine, has only been available since 2014 and is under-used as a result: according to CDC data, 7 out of 10 17-year-olds in the US didn’t receive a dose of it in 2021. And that’s significant, because 16 to 23 year-olds are at the highest risk for meningitis — and meningitis B causes the majority of meningitis-related deaths in this age group, according to data from 2015 to 2018.
Teaming Up To Spread the Word
As a mother herself, Frye says she heard of meningitis B from a friend and “had no idea” it was different — and required a different vaccination — than other types of meningitis. “I realized that if I was unaware of it, there must be so many people that are also unaware of it,” she says.
As part of the Ask2BSure campaign, Frye goes on a journey to learn all she can about the disease, including talking to a doctor, survivors of meningitis, and families who lost children to the illness. It’s all put together in a short Lifetime film, I Never Thought to Ask: A Mom’s Quest For Answers funded by the pharmaceutical company GSK.
For Frye, the most powerful part of the journey was speaking to the families of teens and young adults who lost their lives to meningitis B. Frye described the families as “so courageous,” and said their strength to share their pain and their stories left Frye “awe-inspired” — and motivated to help the cause. “It just made me want to advocate more to have their voices heard,” she says.
Near the end of the film, Frye meets up with Hart to share the journey and the vital information with her friend and fellow mom, leading to an eye-opening moment for Hart. “When you hear ‘meningitis,’ you’re like oh, my kid already got that [vaccine],” she says. To learn there’s another type of meningitis that requires a separate vaccine — and that, without the vaccine, your child could be vulnerable to a life-threatening illness — is sobering to say the least.
“You’ll hear a story from someone whose daughter was getting ready for her prom and a week later she’s having to bury her daughter,” Frye says, describing those conversations as “gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and devastating.” “It’s so important to understand how potentially deadly this is,” she adds.
It’s also important to remember the age group most affected by meningitis — 16 to 23-year-olds — who are often at the most risk because of the close contact they share with each other, which gives the bacteria ample opportunity to spread. “They are starting to do the things that college or high school kids do,” Hart says, which includes not just “swapping spit,” as Hart puts it, but also living in close quarters, like college dorms. “When you’re living in close quarters with other people, you’re sharing a lot, and sometimes things you don’t want to be sharing.”
Talking To Your Doctor (And Your Friends) About Meningitis B
For parents, the information can be scary and overwhelming to hear, which is why Frye and Hart say parent-to-parent conversations, like the one they shared, are so important.
“As parents, this is what we do,” Hart explains. “We talk to our friends and we learn things from each other.” For Hart and Frye specifically, these conversations are “organic to us,” Hart says. Sharing these stories and information is “so authentic to who we are,” Frye adds.
When it comes to meningitis, they want to expand the conversation even further. “It’s important for people to understand that although it’s an uncommon disease, it’s potentially life-threatening — and how quickly it can happen,” Frye says. (Meningitis can progress rapidly, sometimes causing serious illness within a few hours, the CDC says.) Hart’s advice: ask your doctor about both kinds of vaccines, and make sure to specifically ask about the meningitis B vaccine. According to the Ask2BSure website, “some doctors may not mention both, and not all parents know to ask for [both].”
After the conversations Frye had with families of meningitis victims, she also wants parents to listen to their gut instincts. “Trusting that voice inside, I think that is so important,” she says. “To not be afraid to ask questions and not take no for an answer when asking these questions and really advocating for our children.”
You can watch the short film and get more information on the meningitis B vaccine at the Ask2BSure website.
Before you go, hear what these celebrities have to say about their rare or chronic illnesses:
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