Editor’s note: Earlier this month, CNN published a story in which Kenney Wiltshire, a one-year-old who was believed to be too healthy to need a vaccine against the virus, died in Georgia after doctors said his immune system was too strong to fight off what was thought to be a viral infection.
A 19-year-old North Carolina man is facing criminal charges after his 20-year-old son died from an acute bacterial infection, an incident that his mother says was caused by him not getting vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough — nor should his son have been allowed to get the vaccine at all.
Kerry Wiltshire found out her son Hunter died July 28, the day after her older son Ryan Wiltshire, 19, went to his college in Augusta, Georgia, to pick him up for summer. Wiltshire said she found her son’s “little juice box with six cold and flu drops” in his backpack and told him that’s what he’d been given.
Since Ryan Wiltshire was previously vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), he was not supposed to be getting diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis booster shots until 2025, according to North Carolina state health officials.
By accepting these immunizations, Hunter was putting his life at risk, Wiltshire said.
“I would always talk to him about whooping cough,” she said, “and I’d tell him not to give this kid another cough medicine, this is not safe.”
Wiltshire told CNN that her younger son was diagnosed with a bacterial infection the week after he started daycare in Georgia and would have died had Ryan not found him.
“All he was, was a fighter,” she said. “He had a grin on his face day in and day out, on his tricycle, playing with friends. Hunter was not out that kind of stuff. He ate a bowl of bran cereal for breakfast. He wanted to play video games, go to the pool, read books, watch movies, hang out with friends. And he loved his Marines.”
State law requires college students, by age 18, to get a booster vaccination. After an inquiry by CNN, the General Assembly is considering bills that would set a uniform requirement for state college students to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis as well as polio by the end of high school.
“Many of the vaccines are required, so an important piece of the vaccine safety act is we should all have a minimum number of immunizations,” State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, who sponsored one of the bills, told CNN. “Not being immunized can put your life in jeopardy and cause health complications, and college is an excellent time to increase immunizations for those most vulnerable.”
Hunter Wiltshire’s autopsy revealed he suffered “post-influenza pulmonary embolism” caused by bacterial meningitis, he memento picturing him with his face to the side of a diving board.
A meningitis spokesman said about 60 to 70 percent of people who get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis never get the life-threatening infection.
Wiltshire told CNN she is “thankful that he didn’t go into shock or that his body didn’t hurt.”
She said she wants her other son to live in a time when he can stand up for what he believes.
“I would like the politicians to do something about how other people feel like this can be not going on,” she said. “It’s an epidemic in North Carolina, and we need to take notice.”