By Dr. Ari Brown, Practicing Pediatrician and Author of Baby411, Toddler411 and the soon to be release Expecting 411
My brother passed away recently. He was only 57 years old.
Like so many people whose lives end prematurely, he died from cancer—specifically, liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)—which is often caused by a previous Hepatitis B infection. The cancer shows up several years later. My brother had a Hepatitis B infection about 35 years ago. Because he had other chronic health problems, no one will ever know if this infection is what led to his cancer and subsequent death, but I will always wonder and it will haunt me the rest of my life.
As a pediatrician, I talk about Hepatitis B disease and vaccine with the parents of every newborn patient. One of the really cool advances in modern medicine is the development of cancer-preventing vaccines. Hepatitis B vaccine has the honor of being the first cancer vaccine ever created. It was developed in the 1980’s and it became part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in 1991. Babies usually get their first of three doses before they even leave the hospital.
Over the years, I’ve encountered parents who have reservations about giving their child this vaccine. I hear, “My baby isn’t at risk,” or “It’s spread by having sex, so why give it to my baby now?” But like every other vaccine, it is all about prevention. It doesn’t matter when you THINK your child might encounter a potentially deadly infection. The truth is, you never know and cannot control when that might happen. About 30% of people who get Hepatitis B infections are not considered “high-risk” for getting infected.
After losing a loved one to liver cancer, I can’t imagine why a parent would opt to leave their child at risk.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think my brother would have agreed.
Dr. Ari Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of Texas at Austin and a medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency and a fellowship in developmental/behavioral pediatrics at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston.
Dr. Brown resides in Austin, Texas, where she has been in private practice since 1995. She is the co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Baby’s First Year, Toddler 411: Clear Answers for your Toddler and her latest book Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Pregnancy (June 2010 publish date). Dr. Brown serves as a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and as a medical advisor and child health expert to Parents magazine and WebMD.
By Frankie Milley, Meningitis Angels
Meningitis Angels was founded in memory of Ryan Wayne Milley, only child of Bob and Frankie Milley. Ryan died at the age of 18 from meningococcal meningitis. Frankie now leads a large network of “angels” who have been affected by meningitis and speak out to raise awareness about this disease.
Just a little over a month ago I went to Oklahoma to help out the little town of Oologah during a serious outbreak of meningococcal meningitis with Angels Amanda and Abby at my side. It was devastating to see what this horrific vaccine-preventable disease could do in just a few short hours. It brought back those horrible memories of watching my only child, my precious Ryan, lay dying on an ER table. The days were filled with hospital visits, funeral homes, heartbroken families, legislators, health department folks, vaccine clinics and a blizzard on the first day of spring.
This weekend I will once again return to this little town. Only this time, to celebrate World Meningitis Day at the same little school where life was taken just a few weeks ago. Angels, Leslie, Karisa, Harley and her mom Donna, and Angel family the Menards, will be there. I pray with our candlelight visual, special music, flower seeds and a balloon launch with messages of love that we can bring just a glimmer of peace, hope and joy to this little town.
Most of all I hope that there is increased awareness about the vaccines which prevent this disease so that no more lives will be sacrificed from this deadly vaccine preventable disease.
Learn more about meningitis angels at www.meningitis-angels.org
By Christine Vara
Whether your child is four days, two months, or 42 years old, as a parent you will always feel the need to protect them. After all, no one has a bigger interest in the life of a child than their parent. When it comes to my own five children, I try to protect them from preventable disease the best way that I can, realizing there is only so much that I can control. For instance, I am so militant about my hand washing rule that before my four-year old eats, she now willingly proves that she has washed her hands by sticking them in front of my face and saying, “Smell mommy. See? I wash my hands.”
I’ve realized that despite the good food I prepare and the healthy habits I try to instill, germs and viruses are everywhere. Good health for our children is a constant struggle – a struggle within their own immune systems. It’s not uncommon for kids to get run down as a result of their active lifestyle, and if they’re not getting enough rest their bodies become less effective at combating disease. That is why I inquire with my doctor about ways that I can further protect my children from unnecessary illness. As my youngest daughter turns five next week, she’s preparing to enter kindergarten and I’ve begun preparing myself for her vaccinations by researching the current recommendations prior to her well visit.
In conversations with others, I’ve learned that some parents are worried about the number of vaccines that their children need to receive, as well as multiple vaccines suggested in one visit. Some parents decide to forego the recommended schedule and “space out” the shots, concerned that multiple vaccinations might overwhelm a child’s immune system. While it seems reasonable for parents to have these concerns, doctors explain that an infant’s immune system can handle many more vaccines than are actually given at one time. In a recent article in this month’s Parents magazine, one doctor explains that “young children are exposed to more antigens – bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other substances that can stimulate disease-fighting antibodies – in a single day of eating, playing, and breathing than they are through immunizations.” The article, entitled “Vaccines: The Reality Behind the Debate”, provides an excellent overview of the concerns that many parents have when it comes time to vaccinate their children, and it presents a clear understanding of the perceived risks, as well as the medical benefits of vaccines.
It’s important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a recommended schedule based upon the need to protect our children by the age when they are most vulnerable to the diseases we are vaccinating them against. It is the high number of hospitalizations and deaths in children that even justified the years of research required to create these vaccines. Therefore, the CDC recommends completing the series of immunizations prior to when the child is at the greatest risk.
Sometimes this includes multiple immunizations that are offered in one combination, such as the DTaP. While this also seems to raise concerns from some parents, once again the research shows a track record of safety and effectiveness for these vaccines. Extensive testing ensures that the ingredients for each vaccine do not interfere with one another in combination. Thus, they remain safe, while also being more convenient. One shot versus three sounds like a benefit to me.
Hopefully parents will begin to understand that when we alter the vaccination schedule we actually leave our children open to infection without providing any benefit to the child. This involves taking chances – assuming that our own schedule will be safe and effective, while ignoring the recommendations of doctors and scientists who have extensive knowledge about vaccine development. If you are still uncertain about the recommended schedule, check out the video Q&As on vaccinateyourbaby.org and hear the simple, straightforward explanations from specialists in the field.
As parents, we must continue to hold our children’s best interest at heart. That includes learning about preventable disease, understanding the benefits of vaccines and doing our part to protect our children from unnecessary suffering and illness. Taking the time to understand the correlation between these things will allow us to engage in healthy dialogue directly with our health care providers as well as with one another.
The December 22 edition of USA Today featured the article, “Are Celebrities Crossing the Line on Medical Advice?” It discusses the celebrities who share personal medical stories with the public and the concerns that many doctors have about those stars, such as Jenny McCarthy and Suzanne Somers, who promote questionable and/or dangerous medical advice. The article contains information about Every Child By Two (ECBT) and its Vaccinate Your Baby campaign spokesperson Amanda Peet, and also includes quotes from ECBT’s Amy Pisani, CHOP’s Dr. Paul Offit and NNII’s Dr. Martin Myers.
Following is an excerpt from the online version of the article - Doctors and public health groups say they struggle over the best way to respond to celebrity claims. At Every Child By Two, an immunization campaign co-founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, board members were initially inclined to ignore celebrities who question vaccine safety, says executive director Amy Pisani. Now, the group spends 80% of its time explaining why vaccines are still critical. “We were poised to start working in Africa,” Pisani says. “But we were forced to pull back just to re-educate people here in the United States.”
Check out the full article on the USA Today website by clicking here.
By Amy Pisani
Several batches of Sanofi Pasteur’s H1N1 vaccines have been voluntarily recalled after post delivery testing of the vaccines by the manufacturer revealed that they were less potent than the pre-specified limit. These vaccines were distributed in pre-filled syringes and distributed to providers nationwide. According to officials at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the potency of these vaccines are high enough to stimulate an effective immune response to the virus. Children below the age of ten must receive two doses of the H1N1 vaccine to be fully protected. It is of utmost importance that all children receive the second dose, particularly those who may have received the batches in question. Follow this link to learn more here.
To learn more about H1N1 and seasonal influenza, check out the Vaccinate Your Baby flu page.
By Amy Pisani
Last night I was glued to my computer watching the live webcast of the Gates Foundation’s Living Proof Project: U.S. Investments in Global Health are Working. Bill and Melinda Gates gave an awesome multimedia presentation showcasing some of the truly impressive strides we have made in global health. I was so thrilled to hear Melinda Gates call vaccines the “great miracles of our lifetime.” Thanks to vaccination, we’ve been able to bring down cases of Diphtheria 93%, Tetanus 85%, and Measles 93% since 1980.
The presentation really hit home with me when they showed villages and people in the developing world that have benefited from vaccination. I was moved by the video they showed of a village in Nicaragua called Pantasma that was able to receive shipments of the vaccine against rotavirus, which kills 500,000 children in developing countries each year. The video showed the health clinic in Pantasma, which saw so many cases that they had to put two kids in each bed. One of the doctors in the clinic said that when the vaccine arrived in Pantasma, the number of cases of rotavirus dropped – and there are now no children in their rotavirus ward. Eighty percent of Nicaraguan children under the age of 5 have now been vaccinated against rotavirus, a truly impressive number that can hopefully be replicated in other nations.
These videos are so important to watch for two reasons. First, it’s important for people in the U.S. to see how much our investments in global health are helping those in need. And second, I think we sometimes take our own health for granted in this country. The alarming trend of parents spacing out or skipping their children’s shots does not seem like such a big deal when we don’t see the devastation of these diseases in our everyday lives. Watching presentations like this one shows us that they are only a plane ride away.
A webcast of Bill and Melinda Gates’ presentation is available online, which you can view here: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/livingproofproject/Pages/impatient-optimists-speech.aspx
At the end of the speech, Bill and Melinda asked that everyone in the audience share this with one other person whose opinion they respect. I encourage all of you to do the same.