“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”
We often take the medical marvel of vaccines for granted. When we stop to evaluate public health, we tend to focus on the need for improvement. On the topic of vaccines and disease prevention, we often emphasize the morbidity and mortality of disease as well as the percentage of unvaccinated individuals. Rarely do we take time to appreciate the number of illnesses that are avoided and the overwhelming number of people who are vaccinated.
Unfortunately, being successful and effective in public health is not easily apparent because the prevention of disease is difficult to witness. That’s why, as we conclude National Immunization Awareness Month, I want to acknowledge the impact vaccines have had on our health in 2015 and throughout the course of history. Let’s applaud the fact that vaccines have reduced, and in some cases eliminated, diseases that had commonly killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. Stop and imagine all the deaths and illnesses that have been prevented thanks to wide-spread vaccination of just these three diseases:
Smallpox was a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by a virus called the variola virus. The disease caused small pus-filled blisters that appeared on the face and body of an infected person.
The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the end of the 18th century, and was responsible for a third of all cases of blindness.Of all those infected, 20–60 percent—and over 80 percent of infected children—died from the disease.
Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century.
As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year alone.
Fortunately, we no longer have to get smallpox shots because smallpox vaccination eradicated that disease worldwide.
That’s right! No more disease means no more shots! Read more…
Never underestimate the determination, creativity and problem solving capacity of an aspiring global health student.
This month we’ve been featuring guest posts by several of our summer interns who have specific interests in global health and immunizations. Today we share a story of another global health student, Lauren Braun, who spent the summer of 2009 as an intern in Peru following her sophomore year at Cornell University. The challenges she observed in getting children timely immunizations inspired her to design a low-cost and innovative product that she hopes will one day be used by moms all over the world.
The idea came after Lauren spent the summer working at a Ministry of Health Clinic in Cusco, Peru. Part of her day was spent going out and looking for moms who had children that were due for their immunizations. Despite the fact that the health clinic offered free vaccines, and mothers clearly acknowledged the importance of vaccines for their children’s health, many of the moms were forgetting to bring their children in for their vaccines when they were due. So Lauren came up with a creative idea to help that was eagerly embraced by the nurses.
In the video below, Lauren explains how she designed a simple silicone bracelet that moms could use to remind themselves of their children’s vaccination dates. The way it works is that there are different numbers that represent the age that the child should be brought in to the clinic (2 months, 4 months, etc.) and also different symbols that represent the different vaccines. When a child is brought to the clinic, a nurse would hole-punch the bracelet to indicate which vaccines have been administered, leaving the symbols for those vaccines that were still needed in the future. Not only are the bracelets highly customizable to the needs of a local culture, they are also waterproof, durable, comfortable, baby-safe and can be designed to be worn up to four years of age. Beyond the physical reminders that these bracelets represent, they are also a great way to increase general awareness about the vaccines that are recommended throughout childhood.
In order to expand on her idea, Lauren created a non-profit company, Alma Sana, Inc., that received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The funds helped Alma Sana produce the bracelets and complete an initial research study with 150 moms that were followed for six months. But she’s not stopping there.
The organization is now ready for a Phase II study that will roll the program out to 5,000 moms that they will follow for a full year. They’ve already lined up partners in Nigeria, Pakistan and Colombia, in hopes of gathering the evidence they need to determine how effective the bracelets are, and with what populations the bracelets work best with.
This is a pretty big undertaking, and the reason why Alma Sana is currently looking to raise $100,000.
When parents skip or delay vaccines, whether it is intentional or not, they leave their child vulnerable to disease for a longer period of time. Learn more about this initiative to ensure kids get timely immunizations all across the globe and contribute to their fundraising campaign here.
To help Alma Sana, Inc. fulfill their objective of getting children timely vaccines, please tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the campaign and encourage them to make a contribution. You can even follow their progress by liking Alma Sana, Inc. on Facebook and following them on Twitter.
Please share other innovative immunization campaigns in the comments below so that we can continue to highlight programs that are in need of support here on our Shot of Prevention blog.
Written by Every Child By Two intern, Linn H.
As students of public health, through our courses and fieldwork, we often have the opportunity to travel the globe and work with populations from all walks of life. However, with these great opportunities comes a great responsibility to protect others by protecting ourselves.
I’m not saying we all need to be like Spider-Man here, or that we’re heroes with great power. But I do think that knowing you could have done something to prevent a certain fate is an important lesson.
Take for example the recent case of a Washington Women who died as a consequence of contracting measles at a local medical facility. Since she was on medication that suppressed her immune system, this tragedy illustrates the importance of immunizing those that are healthy in order to provide a high level of community protection to those who are more susceptible to illness.
This case illustrates the fact that many individuals rely on healthy adults like myself to help prevent the spread of dangerous and even deadly diseases. Infants too young to be vaccinated, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (like those undergoing cancer treatment) are especially vulnerable to infectious disease.
That’s why it’s important for adults to become educated on the recommended adult vaccines. If we fail to get routine vaccinations as an adult, we put those around us and ourselves at risk.
As adults, there is often this misconception that vaccines are just for children, but we never outgrow the need for immunizations.
Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives based on age, lifestyle, occupation, locations of travel, medical conditions and vaccines received in the past.
Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, the immunity that you received from some of the vaccines you were given can wear off. Vaccines not only prevent against illnesses that we’re susceptible to as adults, but they help protect others we come into contact with such as the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems, and those who cannot be vaccinated.
Some of the vaccines recommended for adults are highlighted on a spreadsheet here and include:
- Influenza (flu) vaccine each year to protect against seasonal flu. Flu vaccine reduces your risk of heart attacks or other flu related complications among people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
- Tdap booster vaccine to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria, at least once every 10 years but more often if you are around young babies. In addition, pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
- Other vaccines – such as shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, HPV – are dependent on one’s age, occupation, travel, health status, vaccination history, and other risk factors. For instance, Hepatitis B vaccine reduces your risk of liver cancer and HPV vaccine reduces your risk of cervical, penile, throat, anus and various other HPV-related cancers.
Despite the availability of life-saving vaccines, approximately 42,000 adults and 300 children in the United States die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.
National Immunization Awareness Month
WEEK 2: Pregnancy and Vaccines
As a PhD student, we don’t ‘settle down’ all that early. The continuing education or the ‘grind of grad school’ requires that you plan out as much of your personal life as you possibly can. This means planning where you are going to live, who is coming with you, and when and where you are going to have kids.
As a student in the field of public health, we do more than just think about the timing of our pregnancy, we think about our health, our future lifestyle choices and the vaccines you should get during pregnancy that will protect you and your child over the entire developmental lifecycle, from pre-pregnancy to infancy.
I’m not saying my other non-academic public health friends don’t discuss these topics, it is just we discuss this topic in great detail.
For instance, emerging research is showing that the preconception period and the prenatal environment (life in the uterus) have profound effects on fetal development. Therefore planning a pregnancy doesn’t just encompass making sure you get the correct vaccines during your pregnancy, but making sure you keep up to date with you immunizations long before you decide to even have a child.
This guest post has been written by Dr. Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, CA. Dr. Reiss contributes to various blogs and law journals, utilizing her legal expertise to examine the social policies of immunization. This particular post is a continuation of her analysis of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
By Dorit Reiss
In a recent article published in the Pennsylvania Law Review, “A Dose of Reality for Specialized Courts: Lessons from the VICP,” Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom suggested that the arguments for moving medical malpractice from the regular tort system to health courts are flawed because we have reason to doubt whether health courts will fulfill the expectations of their proponents. She drew on the experience of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) to demonstrate the point, suggesting the program has “stumbled” and did not meet expectations.
The article is thorough, thoughtful, and informative. It’s a valuable, important read for those considering whether to support health courts as an alternative to liability via the tort system. That said, I would like to point out some limitations and problems in Engstrom’s discussion of VICP, and suggest that the claim that the program “stumbled” is problematic.
I would like to emphasize three points.
First, note that this post is not a comprehensive response to Engstrom, nor is it on the subject of whether or not the US should adopt health courts.
Engstrom raises many important points pertinent to health courts which I do not address in this post.
Second, I want to emphasize that for those interested in VICP, Engstrom provides a thorough, well supported, and accessible introduction to the structure and functioning of VICP.
There is much to learn from it.
Third, I disagree with the implied interpretation suggested by anti-vaccine activists that flaws make the program a failure.
For that reason, I would avoid saying that the VICP “stumbled”. Though Engstrom says the VICP has stumbled, Engstrom never says that the VICP is a flat-out failure. In fact, the last pages of her article point out several of the VICP’s strengths and pointing out the program’s many advantages is critically important. While it’s possible the VICP is imperfect, there’s little evidence it’s failed altogether. Imperfect is not failing. But the term “stumbled” is – and will be – used by anti-vaccine activists to claim otherwise. Likewise, the Press Release by Stanford is unhelpful since it uses language that supports that view.
Those who object to vaccination are already making inappropriate use of Engstrom’s analysis. The anti-vaccine movement has been deeply opposed to the VICP for some time. They have called for the abolishment of the program and for returning adjudication of vaccine injuries to state courts.
This guest post was written by Michela, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is majoring in global studies with a concentration in global health and a minor in women’s and gender studies. Michela plans to study abroad in Copenhagen in the spring of 2016 and has spent the summer interning with Every Child By Two.
As a UNC Chapel Hill student studying global health, conversations about vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement have caught my attention. My parents vaccinated me as a child according to what my doctor recommended, so for me it was never a question of whether or not they were safe because I trusted my parents’ and my doctor’s judgment. To attend a North Carolina university I was required to be immunized for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, but I have also received other recommended vaccines to include meningitis and HPV.
At college, I’ve been taught to educate myself on all sides of an issue in order to fully understand the complexities. So now that I’m responsible for my own health, I’ve decided to conduct further research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I’ve found that this tactic is very helpful in evaluating both the risks and the benefits that are associated with vaccines.
What I’ve discovered still stuns me. The scientific research and statistics prove that vaccinations are beneficial and effective, yet people still willingly endanger their own lives and the lives of others because they believe vaccinations cause more problems than they solve.
As a student of global health, I believe we have a responsibility to prevent diseases, not only for ourselves, but also to ensure the health of the people around us. The health and wellbeing of every individual is extremely important and vaccines help ensure that people don’t suffer, or die, from preventable diseases. While I’m privileged to live in a country that has few outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, it’s also frustrating to know that diseases like polio still exist, and that measles took the lives of 145,000 people last year alone. Read more…