From '16 Candles' to 16 Vaccine project, actor Molly Ringwald stars in Sanofi's push for meningitis shot

President of the National Meningitis Association Leslie Maier (left) and actor Molly Ringwald and discuss the importance of the second meningitis shot in The 16 Vaccine initiative. (Sanofi Pasteur)

Actor Molly Ringwald is famous for the movie "16 Candles," but these days she’s more concerned about The 16 Vaccine project with Sanofi.

Ringwald, who is mom to a teenager and two preteens, stars in a public service announcement promoting the project. In the ad, she emphasizes how important it was to make sure her 16-year-old daughter received the second meningitis four-strain MenACWY booster. Appearing alongside Ringwald is the president of the National Meningitis Association Leslie Maier, who lost her son, Chris, to meningococcal meningitis when he was in high school.

Telling the viewer that Chris died within 24 hours of his first symptom, Maier says, “At the time we didn’t know it was a vaccine-preventable disease.”

The goal is to get parents to make sure their kids get the second dose of the MenACWY vaccine recommended at around age 16. The first dose is recommended at age 11 or 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The 16 Vaccine effort, now in its third year, reinforces "vaccination is the best defense against meningococcal meningitis—a rare, but potentially deadly, bacterial infection that can take a life in as little as one day,” Stacy Kearney Bucha, head of the meningitis franchise in the U.S. at Sanofi Pasteur, said in an email.

Running across TV, radio and online platforms including Ringwald’s own social media, this iteration of the project is the first to feature a celebrity spokesperson. The campaign is also going “on the road” virtually to raise awareness. Sanofi and the National Meningitis Association are focusing on areas such as Los Angeles and Dallas, which have lower-than-average adolescent vaccination rates than other parts of the country.

“By teaming up with Molly, we hope to draw more attention to the campaign to encourage parents to take action by scheduling their teen’s 16-year vaccine visit,” Kearney Bucha said.

So far, it’s working: Kearney Bucha reported that after announcing the partnership with Ringwald, the website saw an increase in traffic, and more users scheduled vaccination reminders.

RELATED: One more dose: Sanofi pushes importance of forgotten second dose of meningitis vaccine

Even pre-pandemic, teens lagged behind in getting second doses. While younger kids tend to get the first shot at age 11 or 12 as part of routine medical care, the later booster often falls off the radar. During the pandemic, vaccine rates dropped even more as adults and kids both stayed home and skipped “unnecessary” doctor appointments.

The 16 Vaccine campaign started in 2018 with first-person videos of meningitis survivors and the loved ones of teens who died, talking about the experience and the importance of the booster shot.

Sanofi's vaccine division produces Menactra, a meningococcal vaccine for types A, C, W and Y, along with competitors GlaxoSmithKline’s Menveo and Pfizer's Nimenrix. Separate vaccines—GlaxoSmithKline's Bexsero and Pfizer's Trumenba—protect against a fifth strain of the disease, meningitis B.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is developing a five-strain meningococcal vaccine that combines Nimenrix and Trumenba, currently in phase 3 trials.