Vaccine Safety and Efficacy Begins with Science
Feb 08, 2013

cdcimage3I’m not a scientist or a researcher, but I have a great deal of admiration for both.  As a health conscious person, I rely on their work to deliver safe and effective vaccines that help keep me, my family, my community and – hopefully one day – the entire world free from preventable disease.  Vaccines don’t just save lives, they prevent long-term health complications and even unnecessary suffering and hospitalizations.  And I’m grateful that ongoing scientific research is helping to improve on the benefits of vaccinations.
In just the past week, there have been a number of important studies related to immunizations that I hope parents will take note of.

  • On Monday, information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that in looking back on the 2009 influenza pandemic, the influenza vaccine saved roughly 300 lives and prevented about 1 million illnesses and 6,000 hospitalizations.
  • Today, I read about a research project involving a new immunization technique in which a dried version of a live vaccine is formulated into a tiny disc with needles made of sugar which dissolve when inserted into the skin. The vaccine, which remains stable and effective at room temperature, requires no refrigeration or traditional needle, both of which will reduce expense and pain. I find this research fascinating, and I’m excited about the promise it has in the global fight against disease.

But even though good science may not always reveal good news, it’s critical in helping us to determine where our vaccines fall short and how we can improve upon current immunization practices.
Take for instance the blog I wrote earlier this week about the disappointing results of a new tuberculosis vaccine trial.   And then yesterday, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that there may be changes in the circulating strains of pertussis bacteria which is contributing to the rising incidence of whooping cough.  While experts have acknowledged that the current pertussis vaccine is far from perfect, it remains the best means of prevention at this time.   While yesterday’s report clearly addresses the challenges we face in the battle against pertussis, it also represents an important step in improving pertussis vaccine efficacy in the future.  As stated in the closing sentence of the report,

An understanding of the epidemiology and virulence of pertactin-negative variants is crucial to developing the next generation of pertussis vaccines.”

While critics will inevitably use this report to suggest that the pertussis vaccine is not effective, those of us who understand the challenges of pertussis vaccination will applaud the fact that this research is bringing important considerations to light and confirming what some had suspected.   This report helps us recognize the dangers of pertussis, explains why we may be seeing an increase in cases and outlines the limitations of the current vaccine.  But even when science doesn’t reveal good news, it can ultimately lead to progress.  The point is, with a better understanding of the pertussis bacteria, we can work on developing a better vaccine to protect our children and our children’s children.
Occasionally I get frustrated by the never-ending barrage of comments from people online who refuse to acknowledge the science-based evidence that they are presented with time and time again.   But then I realize that if they don’t understand or appreciate the science, how can they recognize what we are learning from it?  The same scientific findings that vaccine critics choose to ignore or discredit, are often the same ones that help us to evaluate and improve safety and efficacy – two concerns that are consistently repeatedly by those who choose not to vaccinate.   When will they acknowledge that science can not only help address their concerns, but even confirm whether their concerns are valid?
Take for instance a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), conducted in response to public concerns over the safety of the entire childhood immunization schedule. A panel of experts analysed all the research and scientific data that is available and determined that there is “no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule”.  This was an important report and it’s findings are equally important.  But just because it didn’t reveal what vaccine critics had expected, doesn’t make the findings any less accurate.
The video below, conducted with Executive Director of Every Child By Two, Amy Pisani on Fox CT Now, demonstrates the efforts that are being made to ensure that accurate information is getting out to the public.  We can only hope that in discussing vaccine research that people will gain a better understanding of the risks of disease and the benefits of vaccinating children according to the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule.

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