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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
There are a lot of reasons why I love vaccines, but most importantly it’s because they save lives. However, my appreciation of vaccines has also helped to elevate my appreciation of science. This week has been another perfect example. News coverage of several recent studies out this week help to illustrate the benefit of vaccines and provide further evidence of their efficacy.
Reduction in Pneumococcal Disease
At a IDWeek conference meeting earlier this week, researchers presented preliminary data and conclusions from a soon-to-be published study regarding the efficacy of the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. MedPage Today covered the conference and reported that rapid uptake of the vaccine led to substantial reductions in invasive and noninvasive pneumococcus-related outcomes across all age groups after only 2 years. Vaccination was tied to a 59% reduction in invasive pneumococcal disease-related hospitalizations in children younger than 5 years old, and a 25% reduction in related hospitalizations in adults.
The FDA approved the 13-valent version of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for use in pediatric patients 6 months to 5 years old back in 2010. The new vaccine replaced a seven-valent version of the vaccine by adding protection against six additional strains of bacteria which accounted for 62% of cases of invasive pneumococcal disease not covered by the previous vaccine.
The study pointed to the “substantial herd immunity that was achieved,” by pointing to the 90% reduction of total invasive pneumococcal disease that occurred in older children and adults who were not immunized. In other words, community immunity is even helping to protect those who are not vaccinated.
Dramatic Decline in Incidence of Chicken Pox
Another development we’ve seen in regards to vaccine efficacy relates to the implementation of a two-dose varicella vaccination program which began in 2006. According to study findings published in Pediatrics this week, the incidence of varicella (also know as chicken pox) has decreased across all age groups since the double dose vaccination program took effect. Additionally, hospitalizations have declined by more than 40% during 2006 to 2010 compared with 2002 to 2005, and more than 85% compared with 1995 to 1998. Read more…
In recognition of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Lara Zibners* has contributed this guest post on the importance of HPV vaccination for both girls and boys.
Last year I went on a cycling weekend out in California with four other women, all of us doctors. We were there to celebrate my dear friend’s recovery from breast cancer. Of course there was the usual debauchery– feather boas included– that takes place when 5 middle-aged women have left their husbands in charge of the children. But there was still a sense of sobriety, knowing why we were all there and wishing that “chemo” and “reconstructive surgery” weren’t the frequent topics of conversation that they were. And with cancer on our minds, this group of five female physicians soon found ourselves talking about—what else?—genital warts.
The OB-Gyn in the group waxed poetically about how excited she was to immunize her patients against HPV—the human papillomavirus. It’s long been known that HPV is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer in women. HPV is a nasty little virus that spreads from skin-to-skin, person-to-person. Often this occurs during sexual contact but can also be passed from mother to child. Many people infected with HPV don’t even realize it, meaning they continue to pass the infection to others. Hence the some 6 million people infected every year with HPV. And while HPV causes unsightly genital warts, that’s not what bothers physicians about it. What bothers us is that HPV causes cancer. And cancer, to put it bluntly, sucks.
Good news is there’s a vaccine that can protect us from the most common strains of HPV that cause cancer. It is currently recommended that girls between the ages of 11 and 12 receive 3 doses of the vaccine. As of 2011, this was extended to include the routine vaccination of boys. Naturally this caused a stir, since HPV is usually blamed for causing cervical cancer. And a boy isn’t supposed to have a cervix. So what was this? An act of chivalry? A sort of “holding the door” open so cancer wouldn’t whack a girl in the head? Read more…
This morning I was reminded of the importance of human papillomavirus vaccination after reading an article that appeared yesterday in Ob.Gyn. News. As the parent of five daughters, and the friend of several people who have had various health complications as a result of HPV, I’m disappointed that there is a safe and effective vaccine that is currently underutilized at this point in time. Data released as part of the CDC’s National and State Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13–17 Years revealed that only 23% of 13-year-old girls in the U.S. had completed the recommended three-dose HPV series. Additionally, as of 2011, only about 35% of all 13-17 year-old girls had completed the series.
If you are a parent that has yet to begin your child on the 3 dose HPV vaccination series, you may want to consider these tidbits of information that were included in the Ob.Gyn. News article:
- Three-quarters of the general population become infected with HPV, and three-quarters of those infections occur at 15-24 years of age.
- More than 50% of those who become infected with HPV do so within 2 years after becoming sexually active.
- Studies show that more than 20% of males and females have already had vaginal sex by age 15.
- One-third of all HPV-related cancers occur in men which is why the CDC recommended vaccination for 11-12 year old boys, as well as 11-12 year old girls.
- Protecting boys will secondarily increase protection against cervical cancer in girls.
The article also discusses how vaccination can reduce the cost burden of this disease and references other interesting considerations regarding HPV and the vaccine to prevent it. But what I found most interesting were the statistics that have come out of Australia, the first country to fund a HPV vaccination program for all females aged 12-26 years.
After the first two years of the Australian program, which began in July of 2007, a national surveillance program had identified a 59% reduction in new diagnoses of genital warts among women in Australia. There was also a 39% drop in new cases among heterosexual Australian males aged 12-26. Even though they weren’t included in the vaccine program, the rate drop among men seems to suggest evidence of herd immunity, especially since they can be compared among the unchanged rates among men who have sex with other men. In a subsequent report with updated data through mid-2011, Australian investigators credited “the dramatic decline and near disappearance” of genital warts in women and heterosexual men under age 21 year, to be a result of the national HPV vaccination program that had been initiated just four years prior.
This is just one example of what can be accomplished here in the United States if we work to improve HPV vaccination rates. There are obviously some challenges we face, but when I think of my friend and fellow Shot@Life immunization champion, I’m committed to finding a way to educate parents and encourage vaccination. Here is her story and her message to parents everywhere.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges we face in improving HPV vaccination rates?