Impact of Latest Congressional Actions on Immunization Programs

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment
By Erica DeWald, Director of Advocacy, Every Child By Two/Vaccinate Your Family

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As we near the end of 2017, we want to extend a big thanks to each of you! Without your support for immunizations, our voice would not be heard in Washington. Only through regular outreach to our lawmakers have we been able to demonstrate the impact federal policies would have on vaccination rates and thus our country’s health.

Unfortunately, our work for the year isn’t over yet. We are still closely monitoring the appropriations process as well as the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for 8.9 million children who are uninsured.

Congress has twice extended the deadline for an FY18 spending bill. The next Continuing Resolution (CR) expires December 22. A new proposal from House Appropriations Chairman Frelinghuysen would extend funding for all non-defense spending through January 19 and reauthorize the CHIP funding for five-years. Unfortunately, the proposal also includes $6.35 billion in cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). As a reminder, PPHF accounts for 53% of the Immunization Program’s funding.

The Immunization Program’s non-PPHF funding also remains in jeopardy. The Senate has proposed level funding from FY17 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Program (which received a 4 million dollar cut last year), while the House has proposed a 50 million dollar cut. That large of a cut would devastate immunization infrastructure. 

Both CHIP and the Immunization Program enjoy bipartisan support but Congress has had difficulty understanding how their funding choices affect our nation’s health. If fewer children are able to access health care through CHIP – either because Congress is delaying reauthorization or because they have instituted new demands that states match funds – then less children will end up receiving life-saving vaccines. Second, if Congress uses Prevention & Public Health Fund (PPHF) dollars to help pay for CHIP as proposed in the House bill, they are in fact cutting essential funds from the very public health clinics and immunization programs that accept CHIP and provide care to children.

Please consider calling your Representative and Senators to urge them to support ALL public health funding. Ask them to reauthorize CHIP without using the PPHF as a budgetary offset. You can find contact information for your legislators at whoismyrepresentative.com.

Every Child By Two/Vaccinate Your Family will continue to watch these legislative issues and do our best to keep you informed.   

Thank you again for your interest and support!

Flu Vaccine Benefits Go Beyond Effectiveness of One Strain

December 11, 2017 2 comments
LJ TanGuest post by Litjen (LJ) Tan, MS, PhD; co-chair and co-founder of the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit.

 

There seems to be a lot of speculation recently about how effective the influenza (flu) vaccine will be at preventing cases of influenza this season.

We have heard suggestions that the vaccine may only be 10% effective against flu this year, that there may be mismatches in the vaccine compared to the influenza strains that are circulating, and thus, that the vaccine is not worth getting.

To address these concerns I will start with a basic explanation of flu and flu vaccines, and then discuss the factors that play into vaccine effectiveness.

First, let me say that influenza is a serious respiratory infection that is responsible for about 30% of all the respiratory infections during the winter season. When I say serious, I mean that flu can keep you down for a week or more, and you will feel completely miserable. Additionally, each year thousands of people of all ages die from flu in the U.S.; it can be very dangerous. So, that office colleague who said that he was out with the flu yesterday very likely did not have influenza. Not fully understanding the dangers of flu is why some people fail to see the value of flu prevention.  

Flu is caused by multiple strains of influenza viruses that circulate during the winter season; specifically, we have influenza type A (with the H3N2 and H1N1 strains) and influenza type B (there are two type B strains that can circulate and currently 90% appear to be the Yamagata lineage, but since it is still so early in the season and sample sizes are small, this data point may not be statistically significant). Because these strains of flu viruses can switch every season in terms of dominance, and can also mutate, manufacturers need to develop a new influenza vaccine every year and people need to be re-vaccinated each year.

To be clear, the vaccine development process is the same every year, it is just that the starting, or “seed”, vaccine virus that we immunize against has to be identified before it can be used to develop our country’s annual vaccines.

When that seed virus is identified, it is then amplified (or passaged) to develop more seed virus. Then that seed virus is further amplified to create the large quantities of vaccine virus that we ultimately need to prepare an adequate supply of vaccines to protect our population. That amplification of the seed virus, and the making of large amounts of vaccine virus, can occur in eggs, which is the more traditional way, or it can also occur in cell cultures. So there needs to be four seed viruses developed and amplified to create influenza vaccines – an H3N2 seed, an H1N1 seed, and the two B seed viruses.

So why do we keep hearing people say that this year’s flu vaccine may only be 10% effective? Where did that suggestion come from?

When we say that a flu vaccine is 10% effective, what we usually mean is that it was effective in preventing 10% of cases of influenza in those who were vaccinated. This 10% number that you may have heard is actually a data point from Australia, and it’s not against all strains of flu, but specifically against the H3N2 strain that dominated the southern hemisphere this past flu season. If you look at the Australian data for all influenza, the vaccine effectiveness goes up to 33%. Agreed, that’s not great for Australians (although, it’s still better than no protection), but is looking at the Australian data truly reflective of what might happen in the US?

It’s unlikely, and here’s why. Read more…

Vaccine Hesitancy Often Tied to Moral Foundations of Liberty and Purity

December 5, 2017 Leave a comment

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We often try to overcome vaccine hesitancy with education, hoping that the scientific evidence will be enough to change people’s minds.  The hope is that if we can just provide people with the facts about the dangers of diseases, and the benefits of vaccines, than they will be encouraged to vaccinate.  But research shows that it’s not that easy, and this may not even be the right approach.

Today, Washington Post reporter, Lena Sun, published an article that explains that vaccine hesitancy is not just an issue of education.  Recent behavioral research suggests that there is often a moral difference between people who accept vaccines and people who refuse them.  The point is that people don’t make decisions based solely on fact.  Rather, parents who are most reluctant to vaccinate appear to be strongly concerned with two powerful moral values that influence their attitudes and judgments: individual liberty and purity.

In this framework, liberty is associated with belief in personal responsibility, freedom, property rights and resistance to state involvement in citizens’ lives, while concerns about purity focus on boundaries and protection from contamination.

One new study out of Emory University, published recently in Nature Human Behaviour, used a social psychology theory known as Moral Foundations Theory to determine the underlying moral values most strongly associated with vaccine-hesitant parents. They assessed the parents’ level of vaccination hesitancy and explored how important different moral values were to them when deciding if something was right or wrong. Their findings correspond with the reasons many vaccine-hesitant parents give for delaying or refusing some vaccines.

Another group of researchers out of Loyola University in Chicago were able to validate these finding, but then went one step further.  They found that purity and liberty values also seem to influence the belief in false or misleading statements that often appear on websites that adamantly oppose vaccines.

In another study recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers at the University of Amsterdam and University of Kent explored science skepticism as it relates to various issues such as climate change, vaccination and genetic modification in food.  They determined that “religiosity”, as well as concerns about moral purity, were also a common predictor of vaccine skepticism.

The insight that we get from this type of behavioral research can certainly help us better understand those who are vaccine hesitant.  If we can take the moral foundation concerns and incorporate them into our messaging, we may be able to persuade parents that vaccines do fulfill their desire to maintain both liberty and purity.

As an example, to address the purity concerns, one suggested intervention may be to explain that vaccinating is a way of  boosting a child’s natural defenses against disease and keeping the child “pure of infections”.  Whereas a liberty-oriented message might suggest that vaccines can help parents to take personal control of a child’s health so that they are free to live a happy and healthy life.

While such messaging has yet to be tested, these studies, and others like this, are critical to helping us develop more effective communication, and should be a consideration for all of us who engage with vaccine hesitant parents in the doctor’s office, on the internet or at the playground.

 

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.