You would think that by this time of year the influenza season in the United States would be far from over. Sadly, last week’s flu activity proves otherwise.
Although the amount of flu in the U.S. has been decreasing, there was still an additional pediatric death reported last week, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths from influenza this season up to 139. Out of the 2,416 specimens that were tested and reported just last week, 124 (5.1%) were positive for influenza. In reviewing the cumulative data from this current season, it’s also noted that the rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations this season has occurred among 44 per 100,000 people.
When you factor in the likelihood of additional unconfirmed cases, you can see that – despite what many people may think – the flu can be dangerous. And the dangers don’t just lie with those who have underlying medical conditions. This year, 46% of the children hospitalized with the flu had no identified underlying medical conditions.
Can you imagine how devastating it must be for families to lose their perfectly healthy children to influenza?
One family, whose lives where forever changed when they lost their four-year old daughter Amanda, is currently spearheading a Challenge Campaign to help provide funds to Families Fighting Flu and create a new public awareness campaign called Stay in the Game. This campaign is an ambitious effort to educate others by means of print, broadcast and social media which will focus on the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual vaccination, particularly among pregnant women, new moms, families, educators and health care providers.
In order to fulfill the expectations for this campaign, they must secure an additional $30,000 in funds by July 1st. So, for every donation made to Families Fighting Flu between now and July 1st, Amanda’s parents Alissa and Richard Kanowitz, have generously offered to match funds, dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000 in order to secure the $30,000 they need. If you would like to contribute a tax-deductible donation for their Stay in the Game campaign, as I have done, simply visit their website here.
Unfortunately, while the Kanowitz family and many other Families Fighting Flu members continue their monumental efforts to increase influenza vaccinations, states like Wisconsin are trying to make it easier for healthcare workers to forego flu vaccines. Despite the research that suggests influenza vaccination among health care workers is a critical way to reduce the transmission of the flu, as well as flu related illness and death, Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Wisconsin is currently sponsoring a bill that would restrict employers from requiring workers to get flu shots. Read more…
Admittedly, she was hesitant. She had rejected vaccines in the past, but recently decided to take her children in for their missed immunizations.
However, in the days prior to the appointment, she couldn’t help but worry about her lingering fears. As she reached out to a group of women in an online forum, I witnessed the importance of honesty, compassion and education in responding to vaccine hesitancy.
A Caring Community Responds
I was so impressed by the way in which this small community of women responded to this mother’s concern. They did not belittle her, despite the fact that many of her concerns were straight out of an anti-vaccine playbook. Instead, they took the time to address each concern respectfully. They countered the suggestion that ”Big Pharma is out to get us” with an abundance of evidence and research. When raising the concern about ”toxins”, there was an intelligent discussion of chemistry and biology (and the concern that many people are not well educated on these two topics and fail to understand the ingredients in vaccines and how they work safely to generate an effective immune response).
It helped for this parent to be able to talk openly to such a supportive group. And even though she had come to understand the benefit of getting her children vaccinated, she was frustrated that the many unsubstantiated claims of vaccine injury that she had read on the internet had left her feeling as though something bad might happen. But she was reminded that fear and doubt is the premise behind the anti-vaccine initiative. In the end, she realized that when the evidence is objectively evaluated, we see a much greater risk of injury from the diseases than from any vaccine. And it’s only after we look at the science are we able to respond more rationally to our emotionally driven doubts.
Since education is an effective way to overcome fear and build confidence, these parents knew how important it was to suggest resources that could effectively address the most common vaccine related questions and concerns.
Valuable Resources for Vaccine Education
For instance, one woman suggested that she investigate a fairly new resource entitled “Vaccine Safety and Your Child“, which is an excerpt from Vaccines and Your Child, by Paul A. Offit, M.D., F.A.A.P., and Charlotte A. Moser. This booklet covers general questions about vaccine safety, the vaccine schedule and provides details about vaccine ingredients and whether vaccines cause chronic disease, autism, allergies, asthma, cancer, diabetes, GBS or SIDS. It is available in both English and Spanish and can be viewed (or printed) from the Vaccine Education Center website or ordered for $1/booklet plus shipping here.
Another great resource, entitled Understanding Vaccines: What They Are, How They Work, is a 59 page booklet that has been made available by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. It goes into great detail about the way in which vaccines work, including a detailed explanation of antigens, T cells, B cells and adjuvants. There is a chapter devoted to understanding the difference between live, attenuated vaccines, inactivated vaccines, toxoid vaccines, subunit vaccines, conjugate vaccines, DNA vaccines and recombinant vaccines. It’s an excellent reference to share with people who are looking for a preliminary understanding of vaccine science as well as someone who is looking to investigate the safety and research conducted on vaccines.
There is also a 52-page book entitled The History of Vaccines, which was created on behalf of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. It covers the birth of vaccination in the late 1700s, the influences of the bacteriological revolution of the late 1800s, and the flourishing of vaccinology into the 21st century. It is a visually engaging resource that is targeted to teenagers and high school science, health, and history classes but it is absolutely essential information to everyone seeking knowledge of vaccines. It is just one of the many resources available to educators from The History of Vaccines site and is available for purchase from Amazon.com for $9.99.
Stories of Vaccine Preventable Disease
Certainly it’s encouraging that people are sharing these resources widely. However, because fear of the minuscule risk of adverse effects from vaccines has been so well exaggerated by those strongly opposed to vaccines, it’s important that we continue to highlight the true risks of the diseases themselves. Stories of vaccine preventable diseases, such as those highlighted on Vaccinate Your Baby, Shot By Shot or in blogs like KC Kids Doc with their recent personal account of a harrowing tale of diphtheria, are just as important to share with vaccine hesitant parents as the safety studies and science behind vaccines.
Thanks to successful immunization programs, many parents these days are not familiar with the risks of these diseases. Keeping them informed of what we are so fortunate not to have to worry about is a critical part of vaccine education. In fact, it is the part that I find most motivating. Because thanks to vaccines, many people have been spared disease, disability and even death.
Sadly, this week we see a new case of polio in Somalia, an ongoing measles epidemic in Wales with over 1200 cases and rising concerns about mumps, rubella and cases of measles elsewhere. The point is that it may not be your child who is suffering with a vaccine preventable disease today, but it could be tomorrow.
If you have a story to share about a personal experience with a vaccine preventable disease, please contact us at email@example.com and help us to educate others about the real risks diseases and the benefits of vaccines. And if please feel free to share a list of your own favorite resources so that we can all do our part to help others overcome their vaccine hesitancy.
On the subject of school vaccination exemptions, I want to get one thing straight. I’m not against them.
My efforts to inform people about the impact exemptions have on the health of children in school is to ensure that we don’t allow parents to abuse the exemption process. The way I look at it, exemptions must - first and foremost – remain available for those children who are medically unable to be vaccinated. These students are at the heart of my concern as school vaccine exemption rates climb in certain areas.
The Risk to Those With Medical Exemptions
While medical exemptions are limited to those who have documented medical conditions which prohibit them from receiving certain immunizations, these children remain vulnerable to disease, and may also be more susceptible to serious complications or death as a consequence of a compromised immune system. Therefore, maintaining a high percentage of immunized children in school not only protects the children who can be immunized, but also those who can not. The concern begins when the number of unvaccinated children rises to the point at which it negatively impacts the protection we all receive through community immunity.
The Impact of Non-Medical Exemptions
Currently, every state (with the exemption of Mississippi and West Virginia) offers parents the opportunity to claim non-medical exemptions from required school vaccinations based on either religious or philosophical reasons. However, as the exemption rates climb in specific schools, outbreaks of vaccine preventable disease seem to be occurring more frequently. This has sparked concern among health care providers, infectious disease specialists and public health professionals who believe these outbreaks may be avoidable through immunization. One research study suggested that children who are exempt from vaccination requirements were more than 22 times more likely to contract measles and nearly six times more likely to contract pertussis compared to vaccinated children. And states with loose exemption policies has approximately 50% more cases of whooping cough compared to stricter states.
Exemptions Often More Convenient than Vaccinations Read more…
Last week, in a blog focused on rising school vaccination exemptions, I explained legislation (Senate Bill 132) which has recently been proposed in the state of Oregon - a state with the highest rate of non-medical exemptions for kindergarteners in the country. Then yesterday, The Oregon Immunization Program released the 2013 rates of Oregon kindergarteners who have cited nonmedical (religious) exemption from one or more required vaccines, and unfortunately the data shows that the exemption rates have continued to rise over 2012, reaching an all-time high of 6.4%.
Sadly, exemption increases were noted in 26 counties, with 17 of those counties now surpassing the 6% rate which is commonly referred to as the threshold after which community immunity may be compromised for some vaccine preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis. Comparatively, the 2012 data noted 13 counties with rates above 6% last year. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2012 also saw the highest rates for pertussis (whooping cough) in the past 50 years, with Oregon being one of the worst impacted with more than 800 cases of pertussis last year alone.
Pediatrician Jay Rosenbloom, M.D., who leads the Oregonians for Healthy Children’s efforts to create new policy in Oregon under Senate Bill 132, admits that these statistics are troubling. This is why he supports Senate Bill 132, which seeks to curtail non-medical vaccine exemptions in Oregon’s schools and daycares by requiring parents who request a non-medical exemption to either complete an online educational video, or obtain a signed form from their health care provider.
The goal is to educate parents about the risk of opting out of immunizations, as well as inform them about vaccine preventable diseases and community immunity. Often parents seek information online about vaccines; information that is often inaccurate and incomplete. The hope is that this legislation will ensure parents receive credible, medically based information about immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases. While the bill will still allow parents to claim exemptions for any reason, the hope is that the education required will reduce the number of parents who choose to file exemptions, as was seen when Washington state’s exemption rates decreased by 25% following similar legislation passed there in 2011. Read more…
As a mother and blogger, I can’t imagine anything more motivating to my advocacy efforts than to have the opportunity to hear actor, mother and Every Child By Two Ambassador to the Shot@Life campaign Amanda Peet speak about her commitment to vaccines this past weekend.
There have been many times when I have wished to be a celebrity. Not for the fame and fortune (thought undoubtedly that would be nice), but for the simple fact that celebrity status often affords one the luxury of an audience. And no doubt, Amanda Peet had an interested audience. Even if she wasn’t talking about what many would have expected.
In a session entitled Random Acts of Impact: The Power of Giving Back, Amanda, along with four other impressive women panelists, addressed a group of highly influential social media moms and women entrepreneurs at the Mom 2.0 Summit in California on Saturday. She explained how she uses her celebrity as a platform and is working to bring awareness of the importance of childhood vaccines. She emphasized how powerful it would be if others would also use their social media platforms to help promote immunizations and the Shot@Life campaign.
Her words were passionate, but what really spoke volumes were her actions. Amanda talked about how she began working with Every Child by Two on their Vaccinate Your Baby campaign over five years ago. At the time, Amanda was expecting her first child. While others were using their celebrity status to question the safety of vaccines, Amanda decided to take her questions directly to the medical experts and look at what the science had to say. After having her many questions answered and discovering various reputable sources such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Every Child By Two, she realized just how important it was for children to receive all their recommended vaccines and she decided she that she wanted to help get the message out to others. Read more…
Across the U.S., individual state policies determine which immunizations a child needs in order to be permitted to attend school. And each state also has different ways in which parents can obtain exemptions from these requirements. However, as vaccine exemption rates climb, so do outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases which are threatening the health of our children. Some states are trying to respond by making an effort to legislate their way toward better public health. However, both vaccine supporters and critics maintain different interpretations of “informed consent“.
On the one hand, public health departments are supporting legislation in states such as West Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont that seek to add requirements to an all-too-easy exemption process. Prior to opting out of vaccines for their children, they want parents to be adequately informed of the risks of these decisions. From the public health standpoint, if a parent wants to opt-out of vaccinating their child, the process shouldn’t be any easier than what parents are expected to do to adhere to the vaccine requirement. Therefore, by requiring parents to discuss vaccines with a health care provider, to learn about the risks of not vaccinating, new state legislation is seeking to provide better parental education and information. It would only be expected that this would be welcomed by those who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
However, a small but vocal minority of anti-vaccine advocates would like to have legislators believe that these new laws are taking away their “rights” and actually interfering with their perception of informed consent. So they have circled the wagons and are writing letters, calling their legislators and demanding that their choice to refuse vaccination is not only protected, but remains unquestioned. However, if they don’t support vaccine conversations with qualified medical personnel, how can they claim that they are supportive of informed consent? The truth of the matter is that they don’t want their misguided decisions questioned. They would rather remain confident in their decisions by focusing on the minimal risks of vaccinations and ignoring the overwhelmingly proven benefits.
The fact is that public health departments have both science and statistics on their side. For example, children whose parents have exempted them from the measles vaccine are more than 35 times more likely to contract measles compared to vaccinated children. And the exemption data across the country reveals that the easier it is for parents to opt out of required vaccinations, the more likely it is that the vaccination rates will drop. For instance, a 2006 study found that states with loose exemption policies had approximately 50% more cases of whooping cough (pertussis) compared to states with stricter policies. Read more…