Soleil Moon Frye, once a child star (“Punky Brewster”) and now the mother of four kids, learns about potentially deadly meningitis B in a new 17-minute Lifetime film titled “I Never Thought to Ask: A Mom’s Quest for Answers.” The film has already debuted online and will premiere on the Lifetime linear channel June 25 at noon ET.
GSK, which markets one of two meningitis B vaccines (the other comes from Pfizer), funded the film and is paying for the placements. The short doesn’t promote GSK’s vaccine directly, but suggests strongly that women – Lifetime’s raison d’etre – ask their children’s doctors about meningitis B vaccines.
In the film, a pediatrician friend of Frye’s notes that 16- to 23-year-olds are “at increased risk” of the disease “because of normal behaviors of 16- to 23-year-olds: sharing utensils, sharing water bottles…sharing everything.”
Frye also visits with moms of deceased meningitis B victims and with a meningitis B survivor before ending the film by imparting her new knowledge to Melissa Joan Hart, herself a former child actor (“Clarissa Explains it All,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) turned frequent Lifetime movie star.
“I Never Thought to Ask: A Mom’s Quest for Answers” is the latest piece of a public health initiative called “Ask2BSure” that was launched by GSK and Frye two years ago.
GSK is also behind the non-branded educational website, meningitisb.com.
Meningitis B vaccines were not available until 2015, so “many parents may not know there are two different types of vaccinations” that help protect against meningitis, Leonard Friedland, GSK’s vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health, said in a statement. “We hope the film leads to more parents talking to their child’s doctor about meningitis B vaccination.”
“Our Lifetime audience is a community of strong women – many of whom are parents - who interact with our brand everywhere, so we’re excited to help GSK amplify their message through this bespoke creative collaboration,” added Maura O’Donovan, vice president, ad Sales partnerships, A+E Networks, which runs Lifetime.
Meningitis B vaccines have not been without their share of controversy. Six years ago, The New York Times ran an article titled “For Meningitis B Vaccines, Climbing Revenue, and Plenty of Skepticism,” which noted that “vaccine makers are hoping to profit from an ailment that very few people get.” That number was then put at fewer than 300 cases annually in the U.S.
But GSK openly acknowledges the extreme rarity of the disease, with the website of its Bexsero vaccine stating, “From 2011 to 2019, there were 50 cases of meningitis B, including 2 deaths, at colleges or universities in the following states: Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.