Thoughts from a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist
What better way to spend the day than by preventing devastating disease?
This week, we would like to introduce another distinguished member of Every Child By Two’s Scientific Advisory Board. We recently caught up with Dr. Mark Sawyer, to find out what vaccines mean to him as a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist.
People often ask me why I’m so involved with immunizations. The answer is simple. I have seen vaccines completely eliminate disease just in the short span of my career. Like all pediatricians of my generation, (I think I am in the late-boomer category), my training years in pediatrics were spent, in part, dealing with a devastating disease – bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis leaves kids deaf, brain-damaged and dead. I used to see a case every week. Now it is a rare event. And meningitis from the Hib bacteria (which used to be the most common cause) is completely gone. Residents today have never seen a case. What better way to spend my energies than in preventing devastating diseases like that.
Currently, I am a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist at the UCSD School of Medicine and Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. That means I see children, mostly in the hospital, with complicated, bad or unusual infections. I see kids with meningitis. I see kids on a ventilator with whooping cough. I see leukemic children with chickenpox. It kills me every time I see one of those infections that I know could have been prevented. Most of the time we can save those kids and that is rewarding. We have good antibiotics to treat kids with, and outstanding hospital teams to take care of them. But sometimes it is too late. That is why I spend most of my time promoting immunizations to prevent these infections in the first place.
It’s not always rosy. The most frustrating part of my profession is seeing kids who are not immunized because their parents have made that choice for them based on bad information. While in clinic just the other day, a mother said to me, “Isn’t it true that the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV, Prevnar) only protects against a small number of strains”. NOOOO, that is not true. It is true that the vaccine only protects against some of the strains, but those strains cause 90% of the invasive disease – the meningitis, the bloodstream infections, the pneumonias. She had been given bad information and made a critical decision based on those inaccuracies.
Fortunately, I have had the great privilege to serve on CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the past 2 1/2 years. This committee makes recommendations about how vaccines should be used. This experience has been both educational for me and rewarding. One of the things I have learned is how thorough the process is for recommending a new vaccine, or a new use of an old vaccine. There are literally hundreds of experts in immunizations, public health, doctors, nurses, and community members involved in these decisions. What’s more, this process is open and transparent. When ACIP makes a recommendation, I am completely confident that it is based on the best science available and that many, many stakeholders have had the opportunity to voice an opinion about it.
My hope for the future is that parents will learn accurate, scientifically based information about vaccines. I hope they stop struggling through the morass of bad information on the internet and that they stop making decisions that threaten their children’s health. I am confident that given accurate information, every parent is going to choose to immunize their child every time. Why wouldn’t they? Certainly, they don’t want to see meningitis any more than I do.
Dr. Sawyer has worked with Every Child By Two to create various videos which address some of the most common questions parents have regarding vaccines. The video below responds to the question, “Are vaccines well tested?” To view the complete collection of videos be sure to visit the Vaccinate Your Baby website.
Dr. Mark Sawyer is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist at the UCSD School of Medicine and Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. He is the medical director of the UCSD San Diego Immunization Partnership, a contract with the San Diego County Agency for Health and Human Services to improve immunization delivery in San Diego.
He is the current chair of the California Immunization Committee, an advisory committee to the California State Immunization Branch, and a current member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Dr. Sawyer is also a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and belongs to numerous professional societies including the Society of Pediatric Research, the Infectious Disease Society of America and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. We are excited that he has chosen to volunteer his time to serve on the Every Child By Two Scientific Advisory Board.