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Vaccines and Autism: Something Old, Something New

April 8, 2014 62 comments
Photo credit:  Emily Willingham

Photo credit: Emily Willingham

The following post is an adaptation of a previous article written by Shannon Des Roches Rosa for Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism entitled Keep Calm and Think Critically.  Shannon is a mother of three and an autism advocate extraordinaire.  She writes extensively about parenting and autism on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and Squidalicious blogs, and serves as a contributing editor on BlogHer.  Shannon critically evaluates new autism data and explains that even though a few misguided people will attempt to use this data to try to put a new spin on an old myth, it won’t change the fact that vaccines don’t cause autism.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a recent media briefing to announce and discuss readjusted estimates for autism prevalence, with a new rate of 1 in 68 children. This announcement caused instant furor in anti-vaccine autism groups, which started claiming the 30% rate increase was proof of a vaccine-autism link, despite longstanding evidence (also from the CDC, along with many other resources) that no link between autism and vaccines has ever been established by legitimate research.

Shot@Life Champions with Walker Zorensky,  Legislative Research Assistant, Office of Senator Barbara Boxer

Shot@Life Champions with Walker Zorensky,
Legislative Research Assistant, Office of Senator Barbara Boxer

I found this information-twisting especially irksome, because it reinforced to me that the anti-vaccine autism community — as few in numbers as they are — would rather endanger children’s lives than admit they’re wrong. I feel horribly guilty about the harm such misplaced fears about autism have wreaked on immunization rates. And so I work very hard as an autism parent advocate, a writer, and now a UN Foundation Shot@Life Champion to educate people about vaccine-preventable disease, and the critical importance of immunizations.

I want people to remember that vaccines save lives. To acknowledge that while Americans get to bicker about whether or not to vaccinate their children, in other parts of the world children who don’t have access to vaccines are still dying from preventable disease — one child death every 20 seconds, in fact. I want them aware that even here in the United States, unvaccinated kids, and infants too young to be vaccinated are at risk from current measles outbreaks. And it makes the job of everyone who stands on the side of children’s health and legitimate science harder when vaccine denialists light their torches and do their damnedest to spread misinformation.

But what does that new 1 in 68 estimate actually mean? Well, that takes some critical analysis, digging, and sifting, which I’ll walk you through, starting with the CDC’s Dr. Colleen Boyle’s opening statement: Read more…

Thoughts on World Autism Awareness Day

April 2, 2014 41 comments

Originally posted on Momentum - The Baylor College of Medicine Blog:

Dr. Peter Hotez and his daughter Rachel.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his daughter Rachel.

Today is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day, a day when organizations committed to autism research, advocacy, or policy promote awareness through events and public discussions.

As both a scientist and a father of four – one of whom is an adult child with autism (as well as other mental and physical disabilities) and a second who is actually doing her Ph.D. on the developmental psychology of autism – I am often asked to speak or provide public comment about the autism spectrum conditions, especially their causes.

Indeed, the fact that I lead a multidisciplinary team that develops neglected disease vaccines while also serving as President of the non-profit Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development often places me front and center in the dialogue about purported links between autism and vaccines.

For me, the issue is…

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Victims Katie Couric Neglected To Mention In Her Discussion of HPV

December 5, 2013 232 comments

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that Katie Couric’s new daytime television show Katie was planning to air a segment about HPV vaccine.  After hearing the proposed line-up for the show it was clear that the HPV vaccine was not going to be portrayed favorably.  And as expected, the conversation has blown up all over the internet in the past 24 hours with many reporters and bloggers calling out Katie Couric and her producers for how poorly they’ve handled this important conversation.

Unfortunately, daytime television ratings are driven by emotion and controversy and Katie Couric’s producers know that.  So despite the overwhelming research available on the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine, that information was not adequately presented to the millions of viewers of her show.

But there was one other thing notably missing. 

It was the voices of those who have suffered with HPV related cancers.  And those family members who speak out on behalf of those lost to HPV related cancers.  

Since the Katie Couric neglected to include a single cervical cancer survivor, I’m encouraging anyone who has had a personal experience with an HPV related cancer to speak out and let others know just how terrifying it has been for you.  You may share your story in the comments below or send them to us at shotofprevention@gmail.com.  And I would like to encourage everyone to share your opinions of the episode with one of the show’s producers (Beth.Cochran@katiecouric.com).

Below are just a few of the HPV related stories that are featured on the Shot By Shot website.  They are all very compelling and emotional and I hope that someday they will get the kind of attention that the Katie show has given to those critical of the vaccine.

In this video, Heather Burcham shares her story of cervical cancer just two months before she died.  Her hope was to change just one person’s life by encouraging others to get the HPV vaccine.

This is an excellent video filmed at the national Cervical Cancer Coalition conference in Atlanta, GA, in January 2013 which highlights stories from cervical cancer survivors and family members of women who have died from the disease.  These personal stories highlight the devastating impact of cervical cancer and emphasizes the importance of prevention in the form of vaccines and regular screening–prevention that can save lives.

Read more…

I Was Vaccinated and All I Got Was a Sore Arm

November 19, 2013 10 comments

GraceStrongEvery day, all around the world, infants, children and adults are getting vaccinated.  If we were to calculate the exact number of vaccines administered in just one given day, I’m certain the number would be staggering.  And the most amazing thing about this enormous number would be that in the overwhelming majority of instances, the vaccines are administered and nothing happens.  Nothing bad that is.

However, something does happen.  Vaccines help our bodies to build important immunity to protect us from some very dangerous and even deadly diseases.  Although it may be happening without much fanfare, it deserves to be celebrated because vaccination has been credited with saving countless lives and sparing people from enormous amounts of pain and suffering.

Unfortunately, the problem is that our society seems to have a fascination with pain. And when it comes to print and television news, suffering sells!

By focusing on the miniscule chances of an adverse event that can be caused by a vaccine, we tend to create a false sense of risk and reinforce irrational fears.  While the overwhelming majority of people accept the scientific evidence that vaccines are safe, there will always be a few vocal critics that will argue that vaccines cause everything from autism to autoimmune conditions to infertility and everything in between.

But here’s my story.  I was vaccinated.  Many times.  And all I’ve ever gotten was a sore arm.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t risks to vaccines, as there are with all medications.  We know that, rarely, people experience serious reactions after vaccination.  We know this to be true because vaccines are some of the most rigorously tested pharmaceutical products on the market today.  And they should be.  They are administered to nearly every person in the U.S.  And we are fortunate to have lots of regulatory bodies to constantly monitor vaccine safety, even long after the extensive pre-licensure testing.  So while we can claim that vaccines are extremely safe, we can also identify the likelihood of serious or adverse event for each vaccine based on verifiable scientific research.  With that being said, it’s important that we keep perspective on the risks versus the benefits when we discuss vaccines.

I know hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people who have stories like mine.  They have been vaccinated and have never experienced any adverse reactions.  But I doubt you will ever hear our stories. Read more…

Take Action In Support of National Vaccine Program

November 12, 2013 26 comments

By Amy Pisani, Executive Director of Every Child By Two

Last week a group of activists from The Canary Party held a Congressional briefing which was intended to raise criticism of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP).  In response, Shot of Prevention posted a detailed rebuttal, written by vaccine advocate and law professor Dorit Reiss, which addressed the issues raised during the hearing.  We have since learned that Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has responded to the briefing by scheduling a full hearing to review the NVICP.  Unfortunately, since the Canary Party openly subscribes to the belief that ingredients in vaccines cause harm, there is reason to believe that this hearing may not only address concerns regarding the NVICP, but will once again question the widely refuted hypothesis that vaccines cause autism.

We have been down this road before.  Several times actually.  And the science is clear on this issue.  Vaccines don’t cause autism.  That is why vaccine advocacy organizations, like Every Child By Two and many others, are asking for your support.  We’re working to educate the committee members regarding the benefits of the current compensation program, to alert them to improvements that have already been suggested by the Advisory Committee on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV), and to help suggest experts who can testify in regards to each of the concerns raised.

But the members of the committee need to hear from you as well.  Below is a summary of our collective concerns and we’re asking you to include discussion of these points in a phone call or email to the committee members for their consideration.

Some background information on the 

National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP):

In 1986, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act, creating the NVICP as a no-fault alternative to the tort system.   NVICP is the quickest, easiest way to ensure that those rare individuals who have been injured by a vaccine are appropriately compensated. Because petitioners do not have to prove fault but only causation, it is easier to prevail in the NVICP than it would be in civil court.   The program has paid out over $2.7 billion to 3,412 petitioners since the program’s first filings in 1989.  In order to encourage attorneys to take on these cases, the program is the only court that pays attorneys’ fees regardless of whether the petitioner is successful.  The program has paid over $162.4 million to attorneys in both successful and unsuccessful cases.

Fortunately, when the program was created a mechanism for ongoing oversight was initiated with the creation of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV).   The ACCV consists of nine voting members (two of whom are parents of vaccine injured children) who meet regularly each year to make recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on issues relating to the NVICP.  Every Child By Two would like to urge people to email members of the Committee in order to ensure that the NVICP remains in effect and that the focus remains on areas where the program can be improved, without digression into other matters.

Some points to include in your correspondence:

The program works. NVICP is critical to ensuring the compensation of individuals who, in rare instances, have been harmed by vaccines. Over 3,000 petitioners have been compensated over $2.7 billion since the program’s inception.  A few people, making false claims against vaccines, should not be allowed to derail the entire system.

The program advances vaccine development.  This program has saved lives by encouraging vaccine companies to develop life-saving  vaccines such as those against hepatitis, pneumococcal disease, HIB, HPV, and meningitis, to name a few.

Remedies to the current program can be facilitated through the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV).  Recommendations for improvements to the program which have been made by the commission in place, are not always acted upon, but are already detailed at the following link http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/commissionchildvaccines.html.

The science is in: Vaccines do NOT cause autism. Countless public health agencies around the world have tested and retested the theory that vaccines cause autism.  All have concluded that they do not. For a list of safety studies see our Vaccinate Your Baby website. Read more…

Flu Deaths Among Young, Healthy and Unvaccinated

October 29, 2013 4 comments

The flu is predictably unpredictable.  Each year we know it’s coming and yet people – sometimes even children - will fall ill and die.  We just can’t predict when it will arrive, how severe it will be or how many will die as a result.   Yesterday’s news, included reports of four influenza cases in Michigan and the first flu related fatality in LA County, remind us that the 2013-2014 influenza season is upon us.  As prepared as I am, this USA Today headline seemed to sum up my constant concern as a mother:  Even Healthy Kids Can Die From Flu Complications

The article highlighted details of a new report published in Pediatrics entitled Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths in the United States, 2004-2012.

Some of the most notable statistics from the report include the following:

Don’t let the dark side win. Get your children a flu vaccine each and every year!

The flu is fatal to children:  830 kids died from flu-related complications between October 2004 and September 2012.  Their median age was 7.

Healthy kids die from flu:  43% of the children who died from flu associated deaths were otherwise healthy and didn’t have high-risk medical conditions.  Children without medical conditions were more likely to die before hospital admission and 35% of pediatric deaths during this period occurred either at home or on their way to the hospital.

Vaccination is your best preventive measure:  Most flu associated deaths occurred among children who were NOT vaccinated.

Some people are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu:  Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), as well as those who live in facilities such as nursing homes, should be especially vigilant against the flu since they are at greater risk of complications.  However, it is interesting to note that the risk of influenza associated hospitalization in young children is similar to the risk known for older adults.  Something that many parents fail to realize.

In light of this report and other flu related data from last season, I’m relieved that my children have already been vaccinated.  When I schedule their appointments each year I’m reminded of the following:  

We know and love plenty of people whose health is fragile, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and those undergoing cancer treatment.  Last year my daughter’s 13-year-old friend, and trick-or-treat companion, was undergoing cancer treatment.  This year my father in law is battling cancer.  And we’ll be seeing several family members who are either pregnant or have young children over the upcoming holidays.  Then there’s my 90-year-old aunt.  She may not have any underlying health conditions, but a bout of the flu could certainly land her in the hospital.  By getting ourselves vaccinated we are also helping to protect other vulnerable members of our communities from falling ill with the flu. 

We’ve also witnessed the severity and unpredictability of the flu over the years.  My husband’s co-worker, a healthy young man in his early 30′s, succumbed to the flu years ago.  My own daughter was a victim of H1N1 during that pandemic year.  My best friend’s son was hospitalized two times with influenza.  And how could I forget the personal stories from Families Fighting Flu and Shot by Shot of children lost to influenza.  As parents, we vaccinate our children to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect them from a dangerous illness that could possibly result in death.

If you haven’t had your family vaccinated this year, there’s still time.  Simply use this flu vaccine finder to help locate a vaccine center near you.  http://flushot.healthmap.org

And if you’re already preparing to explain why you won’t get yourself or your family vaccinated, than I have just one request.  Check out Tara Haelle’s grand effort to “set the record straight” with her thorough take down of almost every flu vaccine myth ever heard.  As a science writer, Tara’s colossal post lists 25 flu vaccine myths and then literally attacks each of them in detail.  With a grand total of 109 links, more than half of which link directly to peer-reviewed studies in medical research, your bound to find the scientific response to anything you’ve ever wanted to know about influenza vaccine.

To find out more about why flu vaccination matters, listen to a few personal stories compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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