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

October 18, 2017 2 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.

As a bereaved parent, my lessons would not be complete if I didn’t address grief. As bereaved parents, we often hear “you’re so strong” and “I don’t know how you do it”.

The simple answer is we weren’t given a choice. 

One of the important things I’d like people to know about grief is that it’s not a linear process. There are days when I feel gracious, like I can accept Joseph’s loss, move on, and even work towards saving other children from the same fate. But then there are days when I feel like life is just unfair. Grief is a spiral and you can be anywhere on that spiral on any given day. There is no right way to grieve. For those of you that are a bereaved parent, be gentle with yourself and reach out to others for help and support. The Compassionate Friends was very helpful to me after Joseph’s death. And for those of you that know a bereaved parent, reach out to them! Speak their child’s name in conversation, ask how they are – even if it’s years after the loss. Our biggest fear is that our child will be forgotten by others.

So today, I am choosing to remember Joseph as a happy five-year-old in his Spiderman costume, zooming around our house, just happy to be alive and free. Eight years later, do I think about what Joseph would look like, how tall would he be, what sports would he be playing? Of course. But I accept that my responsibility is to educate others about the dangers of flu and the importance of annual flu vaccinations for everyone six months and older. If I, along with all the other bereaved parents who lost children to flu, don’t continue to tell our stories, then we will be doing a disservice to others.

Let our stories be YOUR lessons. 

Because of my experiences, and those of many other families who have lost loved ones to flu, you can now learn how dangerous flu can be without having to suffer a similar tragedy. I am thankful that our children’s stories could potentially save your child’s life. So please share Joseph’s story, and all the family stories available on the Families Fighting Flu website, with your friends, neighbors and loved ones.

animated-fight-flu-arm-flexAnd please, remember to get your flu vaccine this year, not only to protect yourself, but also to protect your loved ones and your community. By doing so, you may just save a life and it may even be the life of your own child.   

Of course, if you have questions or concerns that are keeping you from getting your family vaccinated, talk to your healthcare provider or check out the online resources from Families Fighting Flu or the CDC.

You may also join the Seasonal Flu Twitter Chat featuring @CDCFlu@famfightflu and @shotofprev on Twitter on October 26th.

The Continued Legacy of Every Child By Two Co-Founder Betty Bumpers

October 13, 2017 Leave a comment

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Every Child By Two co-founder Betty Bumpers has dedicated her life to advocating for children’s health and has inspired others in her state and throughout the nation to continue her legacy.

Today, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) celebrated 40 years of working to improve the lives of Arkansas children and families.  In doing so, they honored a very special co-founder; Betty Bumpers.  

As a prominent Arkansan who co-founded the AACF back in 1977, Betty Bumpers served along other notable co-founders, to include the late Dr. Bettye Caldwell, The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Mary Sue Jacobs, Pat Lile, the late Dr. Betty Lowe, Jim Miles, the late Sharon Pallone, Dorothy Nayles, and Judge Olly Neal.  Each of these individuals saw the need for an independent force to provide information and education to parents and citizens about Arkansas state’s health policies toward children and families.

PD_0029 (2)To help address problems she saw in Arkansas, Mrs. Bumpers also spearhead a statewide immunization program for childhood vaccinations that brought together the Arkansas League for Nursing, the State Health Department, the Arkansas National Guard, the State Nurses Association, the State Medical Society, the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Arkansas, faith-based organizations, and other volunteers.  Her leadership and initiative helped make this project model so successful that eventually the state achieved one of the highest immunization rates in the country, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began using her model for immunization programs across America.

But Betty didn’t just set her sights on improving children’s health in Arkansas. 

With the progress made in Arkansas, Mrs. Bumpers decided it was time to work on other states throughout the nation.  So, when Jimmy Carter became President, Mrs. Bumpers reached out to First Lady Rosalynn Carter (a fellow former governor’s spouse) who helped articulate to the President the deficits in the country’s immunization program, urging him to work to improve the situation. At that time, only 17 states in the country required immunizations by school age and Betty realized there was a need for a federal initiative in comprehensive childhood immunization.

That’s when, in 1991, this Former First Lady of Arkansas joined forces with Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and together the two formed a national non-profit named Every Child By Two (ECBT). 

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Since then, ECBT has made great strides in addressing a multi-faceted mission which includes:

  • protecting families and individuals from vaccine-preventable diseases by raising awareness of the critical need for timely immunizations for people of all ages,
  • increasing the public’s understanding of the benefits of vaccines,
  • increasing confidence in the safety of vaccines,
  • ensuring that all families have access to life-saving vaccines,
  • and advocating for policies that support timely vaccination.
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Every Child By Two Co-founders Rosalynn Carter (right) and Betty Bumpers (left).

Four decades later...

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The mission in Arkansas and across the nation hasn’t changed much.  Today, both the AACF and ECBT still work to ensure that children and families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives.  That’s why Every Child By Two Executive Director, Amy Pisani, traveled to the Arkansas Immunization Action Coalition Conference this week to help inform partners about resources that can help to improve immunization rates in Arkansas.

As Every Child By Two continues to work towards our mission of timely vaccinations for all children, speaking engagements such as this help to honor and preserve the great accomplishments of our co-founder Betty Bumpers.

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ECBT co-founder Betty Bumpers pictured with Executive Director, Amy Pisani.

At Every Child By Two, we will continue to work towards our mission of timely vaccinations for all children through our Vaccinate Your Family program so that we may preserve the great accomplishments of our co-founder Betty Bumpers.  Her leadership and achievements continue to serve as an inspiration to us each and every day.

 

What Signals the Start of Flu Season?

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One might think that flu season starts with the arrival of vaccine in the local pharmacy or provider’s office.  Others might believe that flu season in the U.S. begins with the first case of lab verified flu.  While flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months,  influenza activity can begin as early as September or October and last as late as May.

The CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (like outpatient visits of influenza-like illness, lab results and reports of flu hospitalizations and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, than “flu season” is said to have begun.

In preparation for flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kick off their annual flu vaccine campaign each September with a special press conference which emphasizes the importance of flu vaccination.

The reality is that influenza is difficult to predict. No one knows when it will peak, how many people will suffer or die, or even how effective the flu vaccine will be.

However, what experts do know is that the flu is inevitable, yet preventable.  Every year there is suffering, hospitalizations and even deaths, but much of that could be prevented if more people were protected through annual vaccination.  2017 Flu News LBE

 

Flu is a fickle and unpredictable virus. 

This was the message Dr. Bill Schaffner delivered during the news conference last week.  Since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. typically range from 140,000 to 710,000 each year, killing between 12,000 and 56,000 people each year.  While the exact number may differ drastically from year to year, this just highlights how dangerous and unpredictable influenza is.

Now is the ideal time to get a flu shot. You want to be vaccinated weeks before possible exposure, because it can take about two weeks post-vaccination for your body to build the proper immune response from the vaccine.

Everyone should consider flu vaccination – even healthy individuals.

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The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.  It not only helps to reduce the risk of flu illness and serious complications for the person getting vaccinated, but it also helps to reduce the amount of flu circulating in the community.  By reducing the incidence of flu, we can help protect those who might be more susceptible to serious flu illness, such as young infants too young to get vaccinated, pregnant women and older individuals who may be more susceptible to flu infection, and individuals with certain medical conditions, like heart disease, asthma and diabetes, who are at increased risk of complications from flu.

Too often people mistakenly believe that if they are healthy they don’t need a flu vaccine.  Or, they don’t realize how dangerous the flu can be and consider it akin to a bad cold.  However, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness with no cure.  Once the virus takes hold, all we can do is treat the symptoms.  While antiviral drugs are recommended to try to lessen symptoms and shorten the time one is stick by a day or two, the reality is that influenza must run it’s course.  This is why Dr. Northrop could do nothing but watch while his otherwise healthy adult sister succumbed to influenza and died.

Why choose vaccination if it can’t guarantee you won’t get flu?  

We often hear people explain that they won’t get a flu shot because it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get the flu.  While it is true that the flu vaccine isn’t a 100% guarantee, the annual flu vaccine is  typcially about 40-60% effective.  Therefore, getting your annual flu vaccine means you will reduce your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60% as compared to someone who does not get vaccinated. It also means that flu vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and death (especially among children and older adults).

As an example, last year’s flu vaccine effectiveness was deemed to be approximately 42% effective overall.  While that may not sound overly impressive, it is estimated that flu vaccination last year prevented about 5.4 million cases, 2.7 million flu-related doctor’s visits and 86,000 hospitalizations last season.  But last year only about 46.8% of the U.S. population 6 months and older received a flu vaccine. Now imagine if more people had been vaccinated. The CDC estimates that if overall flu vaccination coverage had been just 5 percentage points higher, another 490,000 illnesses and 7,000 hospitalizations could have been prevented.

What determines flu vaccine effectiveness?  

Read more…

Evaluating the Safety of Flu Vaccination in Pregnancy

September 18, 2017 2 comments

The decision to get a flu vaccination in pregnancy is one that should be based on a complete evaluation of the scientific evidence that is available.  Flu shots have been safely administered to millions of pregnant women over many years, so how should expectant parents respond to a recent study that implies a connection between multiple flu vaccinations and the incidence of miscarriage in early pregnancy?  

To properly evaluate the significance of the latest data, we must consider the findings of this one report alongside the abundance of other science-based information we have, such as: 

  1. Why the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently recommends flu vaccination among pregnant women.
  2. Data from the numerous studies that support the safety of the ACIP’s current recommendation of flu vaccine for pregnant women.
  3. Details of the “case-control” study in question and an examination of the study methods, findings and limitations.

Why the ACIP recommends flu vaccination among pregnant women.  

Currently the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that pregnant women get a flu vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy to help protect them and their newborns from the dangers of influenza.  Due to changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy, expectant women are more prone to severe illness from flu, which has been known to result in premature delivery, low birth weight babies, miscarriage, hospitalization or even death.

Flu vaccination in pregnancy doesn’t just help protect the expectant mother from influenza, it is also the most effective way to pass critical immunity on to the baby during pregnancy.  This passive immunity can then protect the infant child from the dangers of influenza in the time before they are old enough to receive their own flu vaccination at six months of age.

The ACIP recommendation for flu vaccination during pregnancy is supported by other organizations as well, to include The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

The studies that support the safety of flu vaccination in pregnancy. 

The ACIP is a committee which consists of 15 voting members who have expertise in vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and preventive medicine.  The Committee meets in person three times a year and subcommittees meet regularly throughout the year via conference call to discuss vaccine research and scientific data related to vaccine effectiveness and safety.

The current ACIP recommendation for flu vaccination during pregnancy is based on a thorough review of the evidence compiled from numerous studies, which include the following:

    • A review of reports to the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System (VAERS), a national vaccine safety surveillance program run by CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), (Moro et al, 2011) which found no unusual or unexpected patterns of reporting for pregnancy complications or adverse fetal outcomes among pregnant women and flu shots.
    • A study using Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) data (Irving et al, 2013) which found no increased risk of miscarriage among pregnant women who received flu vaccines in the 2005-06 or 2006-07 flu seasons. (The VSD is a collaborative program that monitors the safety of vaccines and conducts studies about rare and serious adverse events following immunization.)
    • A large study using VSD data (Kharbanda et al, 2013) which found no increased risk for adverse obstetric events (like chorioamnionitis, pre-eclampsia, or gestational hypertension) for pregnant women who received the flu vaccine from 2002 to 2009 compared to pregnant woman who were not vaccinated.
    • A VSD study (Nordin et al, 2014) which compared pregnant women who received the flu shot with an equal number of pregnant women who did not receive the flu shot during the 2004-05 and 2008-09 flu seasons. The study found no differences between the two groups in the rates of premature delivery or small for gestational age infants.
    • A large August 2017 study using VSD data which found that the babies of women who received the flu shot during their first trimester had no increased risk of having children with major birth defects.

The examination of vaccine safety is an ongoing process.  Before being approved for administration, vaccines undergo rigorous testing by their manufacturers, the FDA, and the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Clinical trials are performed before the vaccine is made available to the public, to confirm the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Even after the vaccine receives FDA-approval, post-licensure studies are conducted on an ongoing basis to continually monitor the vaccine’s safety and to detect and respond to any rare adverse events.

While the studies conducted to date have not signaled any safety concerns, the ACIP and the CDC are committed to the continuous evaluation of the safety of all vaccines, to include those recommended for pregnant women.

This has led to the “case-control” study of flu vaccination and possible miscarriage which was recently published in the journal Vaccine on September 12, 2017 and reported on by The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and various other media outlets.  The study showed that women in early pregnancy who received two consecutive annual vaccines during 2010-11 and 2011-12, both of which included a 2009 pandemic H1N1 (H1N1pdm09) component, had an increased risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) in the 28 days after receiving the second vaccine.

Details of the recently published study of women who had miscarriage following flu vaccination. 

Read more…

Every Child By Two Co-founder and President Rosalynn Carter Celebrates 90th Birthday

August 18, 2017 1 comment
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Every Child By Two Co-founders Rosalynn Carter (right) and Betty Bumpers (left).

Every Child By Two’s beloved co-founder and President, Rosalynn Carter, is celebrating her 90th birthday today.  

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Mrs. Carter continues to inspire all who know her through her persistent commitment to the health and well-being of people throughout the world. Her compassion for those in need is the motivating force that drives the Every Child By Two (ECBT) staff to ensure that everyone, at every age, is protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Many of our fellow advocates have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Carter over the past forty years as she traveled to every state in our great nation alongside her good friend and fellow Every Child By Two Co-founder Betty Bumpers.

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In each town they visited, she and Mrs. Bumpers met with public health and community leaders.Together they discussed immunization challenges and helped to build immunization coalitions across the nation.  Many of these coalitions still exist today and continue the important work of ensuring that the public and healthcare providers are educated about infectious diseases and the vaccines that prevent them.

Through her work at the Carter Center and the Rosalynn Carter Institute For Caregiving, she continues to advocate for mental health, caregiving, global health, human rights, and conflict resolution.

Over the past twenty-six years, Mrs. Carter has unfailingly supported the staff and board in our efforts to fulfill the critical mission of Every Child By Two and the Vaccinate Your Family program.  

Thank you Mrs. Carter for all that you have done, and continue to do, to help people throughout the world.

You mean the world to all of us!

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If you would like to join Every Child By Two in our efforts to ensure that all children and their families receive timely immunizations consider

Some Things You Outgrow as an Adult. Vaccines Aren’t One of Them.

August 17, 2017 1 comment

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Did you know that vaccines are recommended for people of all ages?

Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, the protection from some vaccines you received can wear off over time and you may need a booster. There also are specific vaccines that you may need as you get older based on your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or other health conditions.

Below are 5 reasons adults need vaccines:

 

1) Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, or even die from preventable diseases.

Much of this could be avoided if more adults received their recommended vaccines. While most adults recognize the need for childhood vaccinations, many adults simply don’t realize that vaccines are recommended to protect against diseases like whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal disease, shingles and influenza.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that vaccination rates for adults are extremely low (National Health Interview Survey, 2014).

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Higher vaccination rates could help avoid the many cases of vaccine preventable diseases that adults suffer with each year.  For example, in 2015 there were about 27,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease and 3,300 deaths among adults. In 2016, there were more than 15,000 cases of whooping cough reported to the CDC.  Additionally, there are about 1 million cases of shingles and millions of cases of influenza that occur each year in the U.S.

2) Certain health conditions can put adults at greater risk of complications if they do get sick. 

As we go through life we’re often diagnosed with certain health conditions that put us at increased risk for complications from diseases such as pneumonia and influenza.  This includes conditions such as heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes. Even if we feel we have those conditions under control, it is best to get vaccinated to prevent an illness that can complicate these conditions and cause severe illness, hospitalization or even death.

3)  Adults are more likely to contract certain diseases.

As we age, we also become more likely to suffer with diseases such as shingles or pneumococcal disease.  That is why adults 65 and older are recommended to receive one or more pneumococcal vaccines, and those 60 years and older should get a shingles vaccine.

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Read more…

5 Things Expectant Parents Need to Know About Vaccines in Pregnancy

August 10, 2017 1 comment

The more we learn about fetal development, the more advice women seem to get on what to do, and what to avoid, while pregnant.  Of course, all this information can be overwhelming, especially when preparing for the arrival of your first child.  While well-meaning friends and family will provide a constant stream of advice, expectant couples should rely on credible medical sources such as the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American College of Nurse Midwives.   

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Here are 5 things these organizations say about the flu and Tdap vaccines routinely recommended during pregnancy:

1) Maternal vaccine recommendations serve a dual purpose.  

The first reason is to protect the mother.  Changes in a woman’s immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make her more likely to get ill and suffer severe complications from illnesses as compared to non-pregnant women.  In fact, a pregnant woman is five times as likely to suffer complications or death from flu compared to non-pregnant women.  Additionally, if a woman should fall ill during pregnancy, she has a greater chance of hospitalization, spontaneous abortion or complications that can directly impact the health of her baby such as preterm labor and delivery, and low birth weight babies.

The second reason is to protect the baby.  If a woman becomes sick before, during, or even shortly after delivery, she can easily pass a disease on to her baby.  New moms spend a great deal of time in close proximity to their newborn babies, so it is understandable that they might share infections. But infections like flu and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are not just a threat to a new mother.  They can also be extremely dangerous, and even deadly, to young children.

2) Vaccination timing is important.  

Getting vaccinated during each pregnancy (as opposed to before or after) enables a woman to pass on protective antibodies to her developing baby that can then provide short-term protection against flu and pertussis until the baby is old enough to get their own vaccines.  

The best time for a pregnant woman to get a Tdap vaccine is between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy, with the earlier part of this time period being most preferable.  This preferred vaccination window is based on studies of the cord blood of babies whose mothers received Tdap vaccine in pregnancy and the associated levels of pertussis antibodies detected in that cord blood.  Often times, adults are unaware that they have a pertussis infection, which is why the infection can easily be passed on to babies.  Babies are especially vulnerable to the disease because they only begin getting their own DTaP vaccination to prevent pertussis at 2 months of age.  But even then, they need an additional four doses at 4 months, between 6-9 months, between 12-15 months and again between age 4-5 before they are fully immunized.  The antibodies they receive from their mother helps protect them in those early months after birth.

An inactivated flu shot is recommended for pregnant women at any trimester of each pregnancy.  However, the best time to get a flu vaccine is before the season begins, so that the mother, who herself is at great risk of flu complications, is fully protected before flu activity begins to elevate in her community.  . Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best for pregnant women to get vaccinated by the end of October, if possible.  Unfortunately, flu vaccines are not recommended until a child is 6 months of age, which is why the protection a child gets from his or her mother is critical to keeping that child flu-free until they can receive their own vaccine.

3) Maternal vaccines protect against two serious illnesses; whooping cough and flu.

Read more…