Yesterday was the day I had been anxiously anticipating for well over a month. I took my kids to the local senior center to get our flu shots at the county flu vaccination clinic.
While most Americans are worrying themselves sick over Ebola, I’m more concerned about the greater risk of influenza. See, I’m no stranger to the fact that thousands of people die from influenza each year. In fact, I’ve already read about several flu deaths being reported this season, to include a person from South Carolina and a child from North Carolina in just the past week though these deaths won’t get the media attention Ebola does. And while the flu may not be widespread in my local area at this particular moment, it’s just a matter of time. The flu arrives every year like a tornado on the midwestern plains. Sometimes you get a little bit of a warning, but regardless of whether you see it coming, it inevitably hits towns, schools and workplaces, hurting and even in some cases killing those who are not protected from its wrath.
Unfortunately, because I’ve had a child diagnosed with H1N1, met parents who have lost their children, know friends who have lost their neighbors, and have personally known a previously healthy individual who succumbed to influenza in his early 30s, I have a healthy fear of the flu (no pun intended). Yet, it never ceases to amaze me that reasonable and otherwise intelligent people continue to reject flu vaccinations because they are swayed by unfounded myths or the sting of a needle.
Yesterday I realized that while my children understand the importance of flu vaccination, many adults around them still do not.
Here are a few of the surprising things I heard in just one hour of the day: Read more…
The United States is currently experiencing a nationwide outbreak of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) associated with severe respiratory illness. From mid-August to October 6, 2014, there have been a confirmed total of 594 people in 43 states and the District of Columbia diagnosed with the infection and five of those patients have since died. While the role that EV-D68 infection played in four of these deaths is still being investigated at this time, the latest fatality of a four-year old boy from New Jersey is confirmed to have been associated with EV-D68. As more cases appear across the country, and more questions arise about the symptoms – or lack of symptoms in the latest fatal case – parents are understandably growing concerned. What is this unfamiliar virus that is threatening the health of their otherwise healthy children?
The truth is that there are more than 100 types of enteroviruses which are fairly common through the summer and fall in the United States. In general, a mix of enteroviruses circulates every year, and different types can be common in different years. It’s estimated that 10 to 15 million enterovirus infections occur in the United States each year resulting in tens of thousands of hospitalizations.
But what has drawn the public’s attention is that EV-D68 is extremely prevalent of all the types and is causing severe respiratory illness. While the three strains of EV-D68 circulating this year are not new, and small numbers of EV-D68 have been reported regularly to the CDC since 1987, the number of confirmed EV-D68 infections this year is much greater than what has been reported in previous years.
It’s also important to realize that different enteroviruses can cause different illnesses, such as respiratory illness, febrile rash, and acute neurological diseases such as aseptic meningitis which results in swelling of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, encephalitis which results in swelling of the brain, and acute myelitis and paralysis. While severe respiratory illness has been the most common result of EV-D68 infection, the CDC is aware of two published reports of children with neurologic illnesses in confirmed patients with EV-D68 infection. This, of course, is concerning and has resulted in frequent alerts and updates from the CDC in regard to the spread and symptoms of EV-D68. Read more…
Last night, as I sat in the airport waiting for to return home from the CDC’s National Immunization Conference in Atlanta, I caught a glimpse of CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden speaking at special press conference. The news that an air traveler from Liberia was the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States seemed to attract quite a bit of attention among passengers waiting at the gate. While it appeared that many people were listening to Dr. Frieden’s comments, I couldn’t determine if their blank stares were due to fear or disinterest.
Honestly, there has been so much media attention on the Ebola outbreak over the past few months that I’ve refrained from writing about it. But now, in response to yesterday’s announcement of Ebola in the US, I feel it’s important to try to diffuse some of the fear and misinformation surrounding Ebola. So, in my “glass is half-full” approach, I’d like to offer a few reassuring thoughts to consider.
The Reassuring News Read more…
The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) held a special press conference yesterday where expert panelists spoke frankly about the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual flu vaccination as our best means of protection. Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led by example by getting his own influenza vaccination after revealing some interesting data points about last year’s flu vaccine coverage:
- In total, 46.2 percent of the entire U.S. population age 6 months and older was vaccinated during the 2013-14 season (which is up 1.2 percentage points from last year).
- Coverage was highest among children younger than 5 years old (70.4 percent) and adults age 65 years and older (65 percent).
- There was an increase in coverage among school-aged children, up 3 percentage points to 55.3 percent among children 5 to 17 years old.
- Coverage among healthy 18 to 64 year-olds has yet to top 40 percent,and unfortunately this demographic was hit hardest last season resulting in the highest flu-related hospitalization rates this age group has seen since the 2009 pandemic.
Flu vaccination coverage in pregnant women has remained steady over the past two years at about 50 percent, which is a great increase over the less than 15 percent that were vaccinated prior to the 2009 pandemic year. Read more…
With school back in full swing, it won’t be long before parents start seeing report cards. While report cards may reflect a child’s performance on class tests and quizzes, grades alone can not determine if a child is working hard to reach their full potential. When it comes to immunizations, yearly vaccination coverage data is often used in much the same way. A report is made that estimates the previous year’s vaccination coverage, but the data needs to be put in perspective in order to be put to good use.
When it comes to vaccination coverage among young children in the US, the yearly National Immunization Survey is the ultimate benchmark. Year after year data sets are compiled and used for ongoing analysis of vaccination levels, pointing to successes and shortfalls. These reports help us to determine where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
This year’s 2013 “report card” for children 19-35 months of age was recently published in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on Friday, August 29, 2014. It is entitled, “National, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Children Aged 19-35 Months – United States, 2013” and the survey highlights the following:
Where We’re At
The data collected suggests that vaccination coverage among children aged 19–35 months increased relative to the 2012 estimates for some vaccines (rotavirus, HepA and HepB birth dose) and remained stable for the others. While less than 1% of children had not received any vaccination, it’s important to note that some communities remain at risk of disease outbreak due to pockets of unvaccinated children. Some of the most concerning data presented has to do with the MMR vaccine which helps prevent measles, mumps and rubella. The report states: Read more…
After viewing the PBS NOVA film “Vaccines – Calling the Shots”, I began wondering what the film’s impact would be. I’ll admit that the film was very ambitious. It addressed the science behind vaccines, why they work, how they work & even touched upon how people assess risk and decide whether to vaccinate or not. All this in less than an hour.
Of course, no one should expect this film to be the one defining piece that will convince people to vaccinate. Certainly it may reinforce the decision of those who already choose to vaccinate. And it may give pause to those who would otherwise refrain from vaccinating. But most importantly, this film is a valuable tool to help educate people about the science behind vaccines, inform the public about the importance of herd immunity and the dangers of not vaccinating, and open the door for civil dialogue about common vaccine safety concerns.
Looking back on the tweets I sent during the premiere, I realized that the film touched upon some of the most important immunization related issues I hear from parents day after day. My goal now is to encourage as many people as possible to see this film (available online) and to use it as a way to encourage further conversation.
Of course, the film began with the usual caveats:
In the US more than 90% of parents vaccinate & most follow the recommended schedule.
Vaccine history may repeat itself. @PaulOffit explains “If you start to decrease vaccination rates you start to see the diseases reemerge.”
In order to appreciate the value of vaccines, the film began by addressing the recent resurgence of diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. It explained the infectious nature of these diseases, illustrated how epidemics are tracked and spread, and allowed viewers to see a tearful mother watching her infant child laying in a hospital bed and battling violent coughing fits brought on by an incurable disease known as pertussis. Read more…
Another great vaccine documentary is set to air this month. That’s right! Mark your calendars and set your DVRs!
Vaccines – Calling the Shots will premiere on PBS NOVA on Wednesday, September 10th. Due to anticipated coverage of President Obama’s address to the nation at 9pm (EST) and 8pm (CT), the film will air immediately following coverage of the President at approximately 9:20pm (EST) and 8:20 pm (CT).
“Vaccines – Calling the Shots” is a special production which examines the science behind vaccinations and takes viewers around the world to track epidemics. The film explains why diseases, which were largely eradicated a generation ago, are returning to the United States. It also explores the risks and consequences of opting out of vaccines, and identifies parents who are wrestling with vaccine-related questions.
This brief preview provides a glimpse of what this new documentary is all about:
Help Generate Awareness About this New Documentary
Vaccine hesitancy and refusal is often rooted in the proliferation of immunization misinformation. However, educational films like “Vaccines- Calling the Shots” can help separate facts from fears. Therefore, we ask for your support and participation in getting the word out about this film. Not only will you be helping to combat misinformation, but you will help others to understand and appreciate the science behind immunizations.
Alert your friends, family and colleagues about the date and time of the upcoming premiere via social media.
Share this blog post, the 3-minute preview seen above, or the direct link to the PBS NOVA page to encourage others to discuss the value of vaccines and the science of immunization. Ask them to mark their calendars for the preview and to participate in the conversations surrounding the premiere.
Follow live tweets during the broadcast on September 10th and retweet them to your followers.
Featured experts from the film will be live tweeting. These include:
- Infectious disease expert, Dr. Paul Offit (@DrPaulOffit), leading pediatrician and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Alison Singer (@AlisonSinger), Co-Founder and President of the Autism Science Foundation( @AutismSciFounda), member of the national Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), chair of the International Society for Autism Research public relations committee, and mother of a child with autism
- Writer, director, producer & co-executive producer, Sonya Pemberton (@pembertonfilms) who, as the Creative Director of Genepool Productions of Melbourne and Sydney, Australia spent four years researching and producing an Australian version and now the American version of this film
- NOVA series executive producer, Paula Apsell (@mamaNOVA)
In addition to these experts, everyone who has an interest in preventable diseases is invited to add to the commentary by live tweeting during the premier and including the hashtag #vaccinesNOVA. We would even like to encourage people to promote the preview ahead of time via Twitter with these sample Tweets: