How One Man is Credited With Saving 8 Million Lives a Year  

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Saving 8 million lives a year may seem like a stretch, but not for Dr. Maurice Hilleman.

Hilleman_scope2Hailed as one of the world’s greatest scientists, Dr. Hilleman helped develop 9 of the 14 routinely recommended vaccines in the U.S. And in 1957, he was the first person to successfully predict an influenza pandemic when he read of an outbreak occurring in Hong Kong. This led him to develop a vaccine for the U.S. that likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives. His life spanned one of the most productive periods in vaccine innovation, and since Dr. Hilleman was right in the middle of it, his life story is truly inspiring.  Fortunately for science enthusiasts, it is now the focus of a new vaccine-related documentary, HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children.

Developed as part of the Vaccine Makers Project, produced by Medical History Pictures and sponsored by the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the film includes exclusive interviews with Dr. Hilleman and his peers, rare archival footage, and 3-D animations.

The film is meant to not only introduce Dr. Hilleman and his amazing accomplishments, but to also describe the incredible scientific discovery and effort required to create safe and effective vaccines.

Over the last several months, the film has been shown by institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. HILLEMAN has also been featured at immunization coalition conferences and national professional meetings, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of School Nurses, National Science Teachers Association, and National Association of Biology Teachers.

To complement the film, the Vaccine Makers Project has developed comprehensive educational materials for elementary, middle, high school and college students. 

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Educators are encouraged to utilize this flexible curriculum in whole or part to support learning objectives related to infectious diseases, the immune system, and how humans fight disease through technologies such as vaccines.

The Vaccine Makers Project has also collaborated with Families Fighting Flu (FFF) to present an eight-minute excerpt of HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children to remind families of the importance of annual influenza vaccines. Families Fighting Flu has made the film a central component of its fall awareness efforts. According to Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu,

“Every year, we remind families of the importance of influenza vaccination, often with members of our organization sharing their own personal experiences. This year, we hope that by sharing the film clip along with our personal stories, even more families will be compelled to prioritize influenza vaccination for themselves.”

Visit the Vaccine Makers Project to view a list of upcoming film screenings, gain access to the free educational materials, or to make an inquiry about the project.

For more information about influenza, visit the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for an in-depth look at the flu vaccine and an influenza fact sheet.  And visit the Families Fighting Flu website to read stories of families who have been adversely affected by flu, view flu facts and download the Community Toolkit and other educational materials

Flu Vaccination is a Team Sport

November 10, 2017 Leave a comment
This week, as we wrap up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Flu Blog-a-thon, we hear from Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu about how we all pay a role in flu prevention.

Most people know that the flu is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease. What they don’t always realize is that flu prevention is a team sport.

It’s great when individuals get vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older.  But flu vaccination is not just about us as individuals. Healthy communities rely on cooperation and coordination of everyone – from family members to healthcare professionals. 

Flu is worth preventing.  

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  • According to the CDC, every year in the United States, the flu kills upwards of 56,000 people, which typically includes about 100 children. That’s more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The CDC estimates that since 2010, hospitalizations due to flu ranged from approximately 140,000 to 710,000 cases per year, with hospitalizations of children five years of age and younger ranging from 7,000 to 26,000 cases per year.

Flu vaccination is critical to keeping our communities healthy. 

According to a recent study, the flu vaccine was found to prevent death in otherwise healthy children by as much as 65 percent. Also, it can reduce the risk of flu illness for the general population by up to 60 percent when the vaccine is well-matched to circulating strains.

The “community immunity” that is achieved when large numbers of a population vaccinate is particularly important. People in high-risk groups such as babies younger than 6 months old who are too young to receive a flu vaccination, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, are not only more susceptible to suffering with flu, but also more likely to suffer complications if they fall victim to flu.

We all play a role on the flu prevention team. 

Parents

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Children are often the “spreaders” of germs in their communities, which may explain why children have the highest rate of infection from flu. On average, children miss more than 38 million school days due to flu in the U.S., which can result in medical expenses and time off from work for parents. Young children are also at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, including hospitalization and death. Since parents are responsible for vaccinating themselves and their children against flu, they can be considered the “Captains” of our flu prevention team. 

 

Healthcare Professionals

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Research shows that a strong recommendation for annual flu vaccination from healthcare professionals is an important factor to improving vaccination rates. Most adults believe in the importance of vaccination, but sometimes need an annual reminder to actually do it. 

That’s why Families Fighting Flu has developed a new educational resource for healthcare professionals in collaboration with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and HealthyWomen. Through this collaboration entitled Do You Know the Flu?, we are arming healthcare professionals with the resources they need to effectively communicate the importance of flu vaccination to patients of all ages.

School Nurses and Teachers

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Studies have shown that high vaccination rates among school children (50 to 70%) can dramatically reduce the overall burden of disease in the entire community. Families Fighting Flu recognizes the role that school nurses and teachers play in educating school-aged children and their families. This is why we’ve developed our Keep Flu out of School program. By collaborating with the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the National Association of School Nurses, Families Fighting Flu has worked closely with a team of professionals to provide critical resources to school nurses and teachers to assist them with flu prevention efforts in their communities.

Co-Workers

Flu is not only a public health issue, but also an economic one. Flu costs the U.S. economy an estimated $10.4 billion every year. According to a recent survey released in October, roughly three out of five Americans (61%) who had the flu or flu-like symptoms admitted to leaving home while ill, which can put others at risk. It’s no doubt that many of us have experienced a sick co-worker at the office who should have stayed home, but instead is now exposing others to flu.

Teammates 

Teamwork is critical to the success of any sports team. Because team mates spend a great deal of time together, it’s not uncommon to hear about professional or collegiate sports teams that have all fallen victim to the flu during important play-off games. That’s why it’s important for athletes to get an annual flu vaccination in an effort to stay healthy and Stay in the Game™.

While we each make a personal decision about flu vaccination, it is our hope that people will recognize that a choice not to get a flu vaccine could have a profound impact on our own health, as well as the health of our families, classmates, coworkers and teammates.

While there is a “U” in flu, there is no “I” in “team”. 

Vaccinate Your Family and Families Fighting Flu are two members of the national team of flu vaccination advocates. Together, we encourage all individuals six months of age and older to get their annual flu vaccination stop that you can Stay in the Game™.

For more information, visit the Families Fighting Flu website at www.familiesfightingflu.org.

Take it From This Mom, the Flu is No Joke

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment
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This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has organized a Flu Blog-a-thon, calling for immunization supporters to post content about the importance of flu vaccination.  We are honored to share Immunize Nevada’s special contribution, which is a powerful story shared to help educate parents about the dangers of flu.

 


 The Flu is No Joke, by Mikalee Byerman

 

The words “just the flu” need to be eradicated from our lexicon.

Because this? This is the flu.

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There’s no “just” about this. It was terrifying. It was the most helpless I’ve ever felt as a mommy. And it was potentially deadly.

My baby, 4 years old and so very tiny, is the real face of the flu.

I rushed her to the emergency room one midnight a few weeks ago because she was suddenly having trouble breathing. She had been home sick from school with a fever all day, and I even took her to her doctor earlier that afternoon fearing it might be the flu. But he didn’t even test her, because, as he assured me, “I haven’t seen any flu yet this year.” What he did see were signs of an ear infection, so he sent us home with antibiotics.

But just eight hours later saw the onset of spasms that rocked her whole body as she struggled for air. I’ll never forget the empty look of lethargy behind her eyes, contrasting against the sheer effort it took to inhale breath. She was so sick, and I knew we couldn’t wait until morning. By the time we got to the ER, she was hypoxic. The definition of hypoxia:

When your body doesn’t have enough oxygen; this is a dangerous condition. Without oxygen, your brain, liver, and other organs can be damaged just minutes after symptoms begin.

It was there we were tested and learned that this was all due to the flu.

All told, I easily could have lost my baby if I had waited a few more minutes to rush her to the ER. And in terms of the far less important (but very real) financial impact, I just received a bill for $11,427 in the mail.

All because I was “too busy” to get our flu shots just yet — because I was sure I still had ample time. I was “too busy” juggling all the stuff of single mommyhood — kids’ crazy schedules, career, marketing my book, setting up speaking engagements, planning a surprise vacation for my family, taking care of all the day-to-day stuff — all things that seem so trivial now, that I completely overlooked something that could have prevented all this pain and suffering. Luckily, there should be no long-term medical issues though, and again, I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

But yeah, because I’m a single mom, this hospital visit will have long-term financial ramifications. And it was likely preventable. If only.

So in the aftermath of this life-changing event, I have new perspective and a few takeaways about the flu:

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1. We need to stop calling everything that is not the flu “the flu.”

As a culture, I feel like we’ve become desensitized to the seriousness of the flu, because we say we have the “stomach flu” when we spend a few days throwing up. But hey, here’s a fun fact: There’s NO SUCH THING AS STOMACH FLU — influenza is a respiratory illness, whereas when people throw up a lot, that’s a gastrointestinal illness. So please, call a stomach bug just that — a stomach bug or stomach virus. It’s not the flu.

2. If you’ve ever had the flu, you KNOW YOU’VE HAD THE FLU.

I hear people sometimes say something like “I think I might have a touch of the flu,” or “I think I had the flu a few days ago, but I’m good now.” Nope. Doesn’t happen. The flu is like death, but with the unfortunate complication of still being alive. I can say this because, of course, since I hadn’t scheduled a flu shot for my kids, I also had skipped my own — which means I too came down with the flu, while in the hospital holding a bedside vigil for my toddler. I spent two days sitting next to my sick daughter, not being able to sleep except on a hard-as-nails fold-out torture device called a “hospital cot,” while suffering from the flu myself. Fever, chills, never-ending achiness all over my body, a throat that felt like fire — It. Was. AWESOME.

And I’ll never forget the pain, the sleeplessness due to the pain or the mere longevity of it (I started Tamiflu right away, which typically shaves a day or two off of symptoms — but I was still sick for eight solid days). There’s no guesswork about the flu — you have it, or you don’t, and if you do, you KNOW.

3. Let’s say you could get a quick and painless vaccine to prevent all this. Spoiler alert: You CAN!

The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it increases your likelihood of not contracting the three or four predicted strains for a given season. And as a mommy who just watched her tiny toddler suffer for days in the hospital and then be quarantined for many more in our home, I can say this: If I could increase her likelihood of NOT getting the flu by pretty much any percentage in exchange for a shot, I would take it. And according to the CDC: “While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 percent and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” Forty to 60 percent? Yeah, I’ll take it.

4. The flu shot does not give you the flu. Just stop saying that.

If you happen to get the flu right after getting the shot, that’s quite the unfortunate coincidence, but keep this in mind: It takes only one to four days for symptoms to appear after you contract the flu, and it takes up to two weeks for the body to build antibodies. So if you get the flu within these windows, chances are you already had the flu and/or your body wasn’t fully protected yet. It is NOT because you got the shot. That’s simply not possible. Some people do experience relatively minor symptoms immediately following the flu shot, but that is; a) not the flu, and b) likely just your body’s immune system reacting to the vaccine as it should, and symptoms subside rather quickly.

MikaleeSo if you’re a busy parent, this blog is for you. Or if you think that a flu shot doesn’t work, or isn’t “worth it,” or that your child will get over it because it’s “just the flu,” I hope you keep this baby in mind. 

Because take it from me: I would have done anything to prevent our 10 days of hell. I’m pretty sure you would do the same for your kids, if given the chance. And you have the chance.

Please, make time for the flu shot. Today.

Mikalee Byerman is the author of this post and the VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group, one of Immunize Nevada’s communication partners. She is also a freelance writer and mom to three kids, all of whom have now received their flu shots — and will every year moving forward, on or before Oct. 1.

 


Other Flu Blog-a-thon participants include the following:

To further support the CDC’s efforts to promote flu vaccination, join in on the #FluStory Twitter Storm, beginning December 6 at 1 pm ET.  To encourage vaccination and emphasize the seriousness of flu, @CDCFlu is asking participants to share their experiences with having the flu using the hashtag #FluStory.  By tweeting about missing major life events to facing a serious illness, we can highlight the impact flu has on our communities and create a storm of support around flu vaccination.

Scientists Travel to Remote Village in Search of Clues to Monkeypox Virus

November 4, 2017 Leave a comment

In this day of globalization, outbreaks of infectious diseases that begin in remote villages in far away countries can reach major cities on any continent in a matter of days.  To complicate matters, animal-borne infectious diseases that jump to humans are on the rise and there is still so much we don’t know about these diseases.

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“Understanding the virus and how it spreads during an outbreak is key to stopping it and protecting people from the deadly disease.” Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post

As an example, reports of monkeypox, a rare but fatal disease, have been on the rise since late last year. Monkeypox is a cousin to the deadly smallpox virus which initially infects people through contact with wild animals (though not necessarily monkeys) which is then spread from person to person. The disease produces a fever and a rash that often turns into painful lesions. Even though most people have never heard of monkeypox, the U.S. government has included it on their list of pathogens with the greatest potential to threaten human health.  

The concern with monkeypox is that there is still so much we don’t know about the disease. However, what we do know is that there is no cure and it is deadly in 1 out of 10 of its victims. 

So, while some parents in the U.S. have spent the year fighting for their right to exempt their children from school-required vaccines, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo Republic, the Central African Republic and, most recently, Nigeria.

But that doesn’t mean monkeypox isn’t a threat to the U.S.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “experienced a monkeypox outbreak in 2003 when an exotic pet dealer imported 800 animals from Africa, including giant pouched rats, dormice and rope squirrels”, some of which were believed to be infected with monkeypox. While the animals were in a facility in Illinois, some of them infected prairie dogs that were later sold as pets and 47 people in six Midwestern states were sickened.

As of January, the Congo Republic of Africa has been experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox that has since spread to at least 88 suspected cases throughout the country, with 6 documented deaths so far.  Out of concern for this outbreak, the Congolese government recently invited researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their country to help track the disease and train local scientists.

As American scientists traveled deep into the Congo rain forest to a village at the epicenter of the outbreak, a Washington Post reporter and photographer had the rare opportunity to accompany them. Their amazing journey, and the fascinating work that the scientists did there, is featured in a special Washington Post story entitled CHASING A KILLER.

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The article chronicles the trip from Atlanta to the Congo Republic, and details the specific efforts made to sample the animal population and bring those samples back to Atlanta for analysis. Not only does the story unfold like a novel, but the photography captures the primitive conditions and the importance of this continuing work.

Hopefully, readers will appreciate the ongoing efforts that are being made to not only improve global health, but to protect our public health here in America.  

 

Educating Legislators About Preventative Health and Vaccination

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Every Child By Two will be making a special presentation on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, October 31st, alongside experts from the American Public Health Association, the American Diabetes Association and the National Council on Aging.

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The panel, which will be moderated by the National Coalition on Health Care, will discuss the vital role of Health and Human Services initiatives to drive down health costs and improve health outcomes at each stage of life.

Every Child By Two’s Executive Director, Amy Pisani, will explain the ability of vaccines to save both lives and money – and the impact federal funding cuts will have on our efforts to combat vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S.

Please contact your legislators and suggest they attend this special presentation on Prevention Across the Lifespan.  

It will be held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center from 10-11:30 am on October 31st in room SVC-203.  If you are unable to attend, we encourage you to watch Every Child By Two’s portion of the presentation via Facebook Live on the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

You may also want to review and share our 2017 State of the ImmUnion report with your legislators.

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This report examines what we can do, as public health advocates and legislators, to make our ImmUnion stronger and more resilient in the face of emerging health threats. The report highlights the successes of vaccines, the economic and societal savings incurred from vaccines, challenges facing the public health system and key areas of focus to achieve optimal protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.  There are even resources within the report that help individuals learn more about the vaccination rates in their state and what can be done to ensure the health of families throughout the nation.  To access the report, click here.

In “The Pathological Optimist” Wakefield Profits From False Hope and a Disproved Autism-MMR Hypothesis

October 23, 2017 33 comments

This guest post has been written by Every Child By Two Board Member, Dr. Paul A. Offit, who is a professor of pediatrics and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The Pathological Optimist, which had its theatrical release on September 29, 2017, is a movie about Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism.

Although much has been written about this man and his discredited hypothesis, one question remains unanswered. And it’s this question that makes Andrew Wakefield such an interesting character study.

Among scientists, Andrew Wakefield is unique.  He’s not unique because his explanation for why MMR caused autism was nonsensical. (MMR vaccine doesn’t overwhelm the immune system; measles vaccine virus doesn’t damage the intestine; and brain-damaging toxins don’t then enter the body and cause autism). And he’s not unique because 17 studies performed in seven countries on three continents showed that those who received MMR weren’t at greater risk of autism. (Four thousand studies are published in the scientific and medical literature every day; not surprisingly, false claims are published all the time). He’s not unique because the Lancet, the medical journal that published his original paper, retracted it when the editor learned that Wakefield had misrepresented biological and clinical data. (Researchers who falsify data are an occasional problem in science—a human endeavor). And he’s not unique because several of the families mentioned in his paper were in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies, essentially laundering their legal claims through a medical journal. (Conflicts of interest occasionally confound medical research). Finally, he’s not unique because his misrepresentations and falsehoods caused him to lose his medical license. (Every year some doctors lose their license to practice medicine).

No. What makes Andrew Wakefield unique is that unlike many of the discredited, defrocked, and humiliated scientists who have preceded him, he continues to insist that he is right and that the rest of the world is wrong.

The question is: Why? In The Pathological Optimist, executive producer Miranda Bailey pulls back the curtain.

Between 2011 and 2016, Bailey, who is best known for her work in Swiss Army Man, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Norman, embedded herself in Andrew Wakefield’s life. Bailey is no novice. She’s spent a lot of time working around people who act for a living. She’s not easily fooled. And she’s not fooled here.

Throughout the movie, Andrew Wakefield’s grandiosity, his exaggerated sense of self-importance, his fantasies of brilliance, his sense of entitlement, his need for constant admiration, and his arrogance are on full display.

The Pathological Optimist follows Wakefield on what appears to be a cross-country, money-seeking tour targeting parents of children with autism. Wakefield isn’t raising money for research on autism’s causes or cures. And he isn’t raising money to promote better services or better educational tools for children with the disorder. Rather, he’s raising money for himself; specifically, to pay legal fees for his lawsuits against Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who had exposed Wakefield’s falsifications in the Lancet paper, and Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal who had called Wakefield’s paper fraudulent and challenged the Lancet to retract it.

Wakefield is out to restore his reputation. And he’s taking advantage of vulnerable parents who believe in him to do it. For Andrew Wakefield, it’s all about Andrew Wakefield.

Read more…

3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Son to Flu

October 18, 2017 7 comments
By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

 

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Today is a hard day for me – it’s been eight years since I lost my five-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu.

I’m not the same person I was eight years ago. Today, I see things through a different lens as a bereaved parent. I am more compassionate, more empathic, and (generally) more understanding and patient. Losing a child is devastating, but I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned through this personal tragedy.

So here’s what I want every parent to know:

1.  Every parent wants what’s best for their children.

I’ve come to realize that vaccination is a sensitive issue for many people. Some parents believe in vaccination, while others do not. But what we all agree on is that our decisions are motivated by our desire to protect our children.

Whether it’s a post on social media, or a televised interview on the news, we often witness a difference of opinions regarding the risks and benefits of vaccines.  However, we all make the choices we do with the information we have because we want to do what we THINK is best for our children. The disconnect occurs when we don’t agree on the validity of the information that’s available to us.

It’s not really the people that are divided, it’s actually the incorrect information on vaccines that we have allowed to divide us.

As parents, we are so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information out there, that sometimes it’s difficult to determine what’s true and what’s false. That’s why when I have conversations with people who are hesitant, or even opposed to vaccines, I find it’s best to listen to their concerns and start a mutually respectful dialogue. Attacking one another won’t help. We need to combat vaccine misinformation by providing the correct information. I don’t want a single parent to risk their child’s life, or their own, simply because they didn’t have the correct information about vaccines.

So here’s what I know for sure; across the globe, millions of children have died due to infectious diseases and continue to do so. Sadly, most of these deaths could be prevented with vaccines.  My son’s death certificate states “complications of H1N1”. I know for a fact that my child died from influenza. I also know, based on the available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that 1,472 children have died from influenza in the United States since 2004. And I know that the flu vaccine has been safely administered in the U.S. for more than 50 years.

How do I know this? Because I made sure I got the facts and I trust the science.

2. Flu vaccines save lives.

We have vaccines for a reason. Vaccines are not created for common, non-life-threatening ailments. The fact that there is even a flu vaccine should be enough to indicate the dangers of flu. Before Joseph died, I never would have thought in a million years that flu was a threat to my healthy child. I have always vaccinated myself and my children, including for flu. Joseph passed away due to H1N1 flu, which was not included in the seasonal vaccine in 2009. The H1N1 vaccine did not become available in our community until two weeks after Joseph passed away. I do believe that if he had been vaccinated for H1N1, Joseph would likely still be here today.

Flu does not discriminate – it does not care if you’re young or old, rich or poor, healthy or immunocompromised. It’s important for people to know that flu can be a serious, even deadly, disease for anyone. Before Joseph died I was more scared of him getting hit by a car or kidnapped by a stranger. Death from flu was not even on my radar. Now I know more about flu than I ever wanted to.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, 20 to 50 million people lost their lives. Every year in the U.S., upwards of 56,000 people lose their lives due to flu, including approximately 100 children. As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. So why wouldn’t we protect them from the flu, too?  The flu can kill even a healthy individual. But those who are vaccinated are much less likely to die from flu.

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3.  Grief is not a linear process.

Read more…