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Five Things I’ve Learned About Vaccines Through 21 Years of Parenting

April 24, 2017 13 comments

niiw-blog-a-thon-badgeI gave birth to five children in the span of nine years. My oldest daughter will soon be 21.  My youngest, 12.  Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about childhood illnesses and infectious diseases.  Like most parents, I’ve received plenty of unsolicited advice about how to care for my children and how to keep them healthy.  However, when I make health decision for my children, I rely on evidence based research and credible information from reputable sources.

That is why I agreed to partner with Every Child By Two (ECBT) as the editor and primary contributor to this Shot of Prevention blog.  Seven years ago, when we started this blog, parents seeking vaccine information on the internet often encountered a web of lies, deception, misinformation and fear mongering. Today, Shot of Prevention is one of many blogs that provide parents with evidence based information to help them make informed immunization decisions for their families.

Today, in recognition of National Infant Immunization Week, I’m sharing five of the most important things I’ve learned about vaccines through my journey as a parent and immunization blogger and it begins with science and it ends with action.

1.) Don’t Let Your Emotions Cloud Your Scientific Judgment.

Visit any online parenting forum and there are fewer topics that can get as heated and emotional as vaccines.  The majority of these conversations illicit fear and sympathy, and you’ll often hear parents say that they had to trust their gut or rely on their parental instinct. While we can’t deny our emotions, when it comes to vaccines we must not let emotions cloud our scientific judgment. Instead, we must look to peer-reviewed research and sound science to make educated and informed immunization decisions for our children.

When we do that, we realize that vaccines are some of the most rigorously tested medical interventions available today. And they should be because they are administered to almost every healthy child born in the U.S.  The four different surveillance systems we have in the U.S. serve as back-up systems to ensure the ongoing safety of vaccines.

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While it’s true that no medical intervention comes without risk, the chances that your child will suffer a serious adverse reaction from a vaccine are documented to be less than one in a million.

When you compare that risk to the risk of injury or death from the diseases that we prevent, vaccines win the benefit/risk ratio hands down.  So, brush up on your science and take the time to understand how vaccines work.

Listen to immunization experts address some of the most frequently asked questions about vaccines in these Q&A videos available on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page here and our YouTube channel here.  You can also check out these other resources to learn more:
Immunity and Vaccines Explained; video from PBS, NOVA 
How Vaccines Work; video embedded on Immunize For Good website 
Vaccines: Calling the Shots; Aired on PBS, NOVA 
Ensuring the Safety of Vaccines in the U.S.; PDF document from the CDC 
The Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine; Infographic from the CDC 
Vaccine Ingredients Frequently Asked Questions; Healthy Children, AAP
Vaccine Education Center Website; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia 

2.) Appreciate Vaccines For Their Life-Saving Quality.  

Thankfully, science is advancing and newer, safer vaccines are enabling us to prevent more needless suffering, hospitalizations & death. However, it’s not uncommon for parents to question why their child may need so many shots.

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Admittedly, the method of administering vaccines can be painful at times.  I’m beginning to think that the reason parents are concerned about the number of vaccines their children receive is because it’s even painful for parents to watch their child suffer from the discomfort of a needle. And worst yet, there are often multiple shots at each visit during those first two years of life.  If vaccines were administered orally, through an adhesive patch, or through a way that didn’t involve pain, I believe parents might not have nearly as much concern.

Unfortunately, one of the hardest things to accept as a parent is watching your child suffer from things you can’t prevent.  But the reality is that with vaccines, you are preventing something, even if you may never see that disease which you are preventing. The reality is that some brief discomfort, a few pricks of a needle and even a mild fever, swelling, rash or big crocodile tears are far better than suffering from any one of the 14 different diseases we can now safely prevent through childhood immunizations.

Since we are privileged to live in a country where we have such easy access to vaccines, parents don’t often see just how dangerous vaccine preventable diseases can be. And while we may not have ever seen polio in our lifetime, we must never forget the fear that parents experienced before a vaccine was available. Sadly, most parents in the U.S. probably don’t even realize that polio still exists in other countries and that globally, measles remains one of the top five killers of kids under the age of five.

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In fact, our country is currently battling yet another measles outbreak in Minnesota. This outbreak appears to be direct result of anti-vaccine advocates wrongfully convincing members of the Somali community not to vaccinate due to the dispelled myth that vaccines were linked to autism.  Now unvaccinated children are being hospitalized with measles and public health professionals are hard at work trying to contain the spread of this extremely infectious disease.

Perhaps if parents were to learn more about the dangers of the diseases that vaccines help to prevent, they may feel less anxious about the shots their child is recommended to receive.  Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 9.16.16 AM.png

To learn about the 14 different diseases that we can prevent with today’s childhood immunization center, check out our Every Child By Two’s Childhood Vaccine Preventable Disease eBook.

Read more…

March for Science, Chant for Vaccines

April 17, 2017 24 comments

If there is one thing we can all get behind, it’s science!

Without science, we would not have vaccines.  And without vaccines, we could not have prevented more than 103 million cases of childhood diseases in the United States between the years of 1924 and 2013

To show our collective support for science, there will be a March for Science this Saturday, April 22nd in Washington, D.C., and in 425+ satellite locations around the world. The March for Science is the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments. The March is supported by a broad, nonpartisan and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals who wish to stand up for science and advocate for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.

If you value vaccines and plan to show your support for science by marching this Saturday,  we hope you’ll consider preparing some catchy chants, printing some pro-vaccine posters, and wearing some vaccine-lovin’ t-shirts or pins as suggested below.

Put Vaccines in a Chant#VaxChant

No one marches in silence, so why not come up with some clever chants to highlight the value of vaccines?  To help get the creative juices flowing, Every Child By Two and various other vaccine advocacy organizations are initiating a Vaccine Chant Challenge (#VaxChant).  Put “vaccines” in a chant and post your suggestions on social media using the hashtag #VaxChant or post as a comment below.  We’ll be sharing and retweeting your chants from our @ShotofPrev and @EveryChildBy2 Twitter accounts throughout the week.

Here are a few examples to get you thinking

2, 4, 6, 8, Everybody vaccinate!

Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives. It is wise to immunize!

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Vaccine exemptions have got to go.

Posters To PrintNot Vaccinated?No Kisses! Poster Purple.jpg

There are lots of pro-vaccine images that you can print and use as posters while you march.  Simply email Every Child By Two at info@ecbt.org to request high-resolution images like the one pictured here from our Vaccinate Your Family program.

Join the Herd

If you’re headed to Washington, D.C., sign up to meet other vaccine advocates, like State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, author of California’s pro-vaccine legislation SB 277.

Order Your Wears

There are plenty of science inspired messages that have been printed on t-shirts, pins and other items that you can wear to show your support of science and vaccines throughout the year.  Here are a few sites to get you started:

The March for Science Store

Voices for Vaccines CafePress Store

Vaccinate California Shop

Throughout the week, we’ll be promoting vaccine science resources here on Shot of Prevention and on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.  Please share these messages with your social networks to help educate others about the science behind vaccines and the benefit of vaccinating throughout the lifespan.

Global Pandemics are the Unseen Enemy in a Battle Without Borders

We live in world that is increasingly more connected.

17201073_755634207937920_5773479724868255787_nThe film Unseen Enemy, which will air on World Health Day, Friday, April 7th on CNN (10pm ET/7pm PT), explores this global connectivity and how it relates to the threat of emerging infectious diseases.  It extends beyond the role of global health leaders and calls upon individuals to take actions that can help improve the health of our communities and our world.

To set the stage, the film takes viewers on a journey across continents to explore large-scale disease outbreaks such as Ebola, influenza and Zika. It honors both patients and healthcare workers who have endured challenging circumstances, and often risked their lives, in the fight against infectious diseases. It also warns about emerging threats, where they may come from and what we should be doing to prepare.

In interviews with various researchers, the film provides a glimpse of the issues that global health leaders are working to solve.

How will we keep one step ahead in the fight against viruses and epidemics?  Where are the global hotspots where these diseases may emerge? How can healthcare workers, scientists, businesses, NGOs and governments work together to ensure that we are prepared for the next invisible threat? What are the possibilities that these threats will come in the form of viruses, laboratory mistakes or acts of bioterrorism?  

The film certainly emphasizes the need for global preparedness, but it also calls upon individual viewers to take action.  The power of the people exists in how we share valuable information, how we support key public health stakeholders around the world, and how we mobilize leaders to adequately prepare for emerging threats now, before it is too late.

It Takes All Of Us

Stopping an outbreak will require us all to work together, for the benefit of everyone.  Janet Tobias, who served as a director, producer and writer of the film, explains how working on Unseen Enemy provided her with a new perspective about our personal roles in public health. Read more…

Measles Anywhere is a Result of Measles Everywhere

April 3, 2017 35 comments

Will we ever stop seeing cases of measles?

Last week, officials confirmed the first case of measles in Michigan this year. That may not sound significant.  It’s only one case in one state, but it’s actually one of 21 cases of measles reported across 7 different states so far this year.

17757243_10210140079997364_6840572758006483074_n-1Last week we also heard the World Health Organization warn of measles outbreaks across Europe.  This image, published in an article from The Sun in the UK, illustrates how widespread the outbreaks have been.  There are currently 14 countries seeing endemic transmission of measles, to include such countries as France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and the Ukraine.  Maybe not the countries you were expecting.  And maybe some countries you plan to visit.

Although measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, and even eliminated from all of the Americas in 2016, measles still kills an estimated 115,000 children per year all across the globe – that’s 314 measles related child deaths each day.  Clearly, measles remains a signifiant global health concern.

And it’s not just measles deaths we worry about.  Measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis – a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, and can leave the child deaf or intellectually disabled.  For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

When we consider the impact of measles worldwide, we begin to understand why every case is relevant and in someway related, and here’s why:Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 6.56.10 PM

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease.  

When one person has measles, 90 percent of the people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune. The virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected  person has coughed or sneezed.  If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.  This means you don’t even have to have contact with the contagious person to become infected. That is why one a case of measles can easily be spread to others.

Disease elimination is not the same as disease eradication. 

Measles elimination is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area.  Measles is no longer endemic in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still see measles cases.  The cases we see here begin with transmission elsewhere.  Sometimes cases originate with  U.S. citizens who unknowingly contract measles while traveling abroad and then became sick and spread the virus upon returning home.  Other times, travelers from other countries arrive in the U.S. while contagious.  In both instances, these individuals can spread measles to anyone they come in contact with who isn’t already immune.  In recent years, this has caused several widespread outbreaks of measles in the U.S.

There are still many people in this world who are not vaccinated against measles.

It’s estimated that in 2010 about 85% of the global population has received at least one dose of measles vaccine.  While that may sound good, it’s still not good enough to stop the spread of measles.  Because measles is extremely contagious, the immunity threshold – which is the percentage of individuals who need immunity in order to prevent a disease from spreading – is as high as 95%.  Sadly, as of 2014, only about 63% of countries have an immunization rate that is above 90% and even 90% isn’t good enough.   Read more…

March Madness Requires Both Shots To Defeat Meningococcal Disease

This guest post was provided by the National Meningitis Foundation (NMA) and first appeared on their Parents Who Protect blog.  

 

As our obsession with basketball’s March Madness has progressed to the Final Four, our efforts to encourage “both shots” in the fight against meningococcal disease remain at center court.

While March is a time when basketball steals the headlines, it’s also a time when meningococcal disease steals our children.  In fact, while meningococcal disease can strike at any time of year, the number of cases peaks in the winter and early spring. Unfortunately, for many National Meningitis Association (NMA) members, such as the member of Moms on Meningitis (M.O.M.) and Together Educating About Meningitis (T.E.A.M), March is a time when we remember those we lost to meningococcal disease.

And there have been plenty of others who never got their “shot” at life.  

NMA March Madness Infogram

The higher incidence of meningococcal disease in March can be seen in the headlines of the last few years.

In March 2014, a Drexel University student died after visiting Princeton University, which was nearing the end of an outbreak that impacted eight students. In 2015, the University of Oregon was battling an outbreak of meningococcal disease with two additional cases appearing in March. In 2016, students at both Penn State and Rutgers University were hospitalized with meningococcal disease in March. This year there were cases on three college campuses by mid-March: Wake Forest UniversityOld Dominion University, and Oregon State University. There has also been an outbreak, at an elementary school in Virginia.

To rise to the challenge of this other recurring “March Madness”, we must increase our efforts to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and its prevention.

There are two kinds of vaccines that students need to be protected from meningococcal disease, the MenACWY vaccine and the MenB vaccine.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12 with a booster at age 16 (MenACWY).
  • CDC recommends permissive use of meningococcal vaccination against serogroup B at ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years (MenB). (Click here for more information.)

It’s important that students remain vigilant and be able to recognize the symptoms of meningococcal  disease including headache, fever, stiff neck, and a purplish rash, so that you can promptly seek medical attention.

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This March, let’s get on the ball and take “both shots” to prevent the other March Madness.

The National Meningitis Association is a nonprofit organization founded by parents whose children have died or live with permanent disabilities from meningococcal disease.  Their mission is to educate people about meningococcal disease and its prevention.  To stay informed about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it, follow The National Meningitis Association on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to subscribe to their Parents Who Protect blog.

 

 

Federal & State Legislators are Listening: Time To Advocate For the Value of Vaccines

March 23, 2017 11 comments

There has clearly been a political awakening in this country and people are once again motivated to make their voices heard in regard to political policies.  When it comes to protecting our nation’s health and maintaining our personal freedoms, there are plenty of differences in opinion.

In a recent VaxTalk podcast hosted by Voices for VaccinesEvery Child By Two Board Member Sarah Depres and Immunize Texas member Jinny Su, discuss the potential impact proposed federal and state policies could have on the health of our nation and our local communities.  More importantly, they explain how everyday citizens are being encouraged to actively engage with their legislators on these issues. 

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Federal Policies and Their Impact on the Prevention of Disease

To start, Ms. Depres explains how the American Healthcare Act and the President’s proposed budget may impact the availability, accessibility and affordability of immunization services across the country. While these policies are still evolving, she comments that the proposed plans suggest significant budget cuts will be made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  These two federal agencies are currently responsible for the majority of federal immunization programs and vaccine oversight.  A reduction in their operating budgets will likely have a significant and fairly immediate impact on things such as vaccine safety and oversight, disease surveillance, outbreak response, scientific evaluation of effective immunization practices and research that helps us to understand what interventions work to improve vaccination rates across the U.S..

While some may argue that we can save money by streamlining budgets and consolidating programs, there is a larger concern that must be addressed and it has to do with state level immunization programs.  The fact is that the collective work of these agencies has a direct impact on individual state efforts to provide good immunization services to the public. Not only do states benefit from the large-scale research and oversight that the federal government conducts on vaccines, but a large portion of these federal funds trickle down to assist states in their specific efforts to prevent outbreaks that can easily cross state lines.  As Ms. Depres explains, infectious diseases have no borders and it is therefore unrealistic and, quite frankly, unacceptable, to put the bulk of responsibility on the states when they are not in the same position that the federal government is to fund large scale programs that we know benefit the country and its citizens as a whole.

SOTI-VPDCostIGTake the state of Nevada as an example.  Nevada continues to rank at the bottom of the list for public health spending with just $4.10 per capita and they also happen to be a state with some of the lowest immunization rates in the U.S. In comparison, Idaho, their neighbor to the northeast, spends as much as $94.70 per capita. When The Affordable Care Act was established, it included the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) to sustain and expand preventive health measures and save the country money typically spend on illness and disease.  Fortunately, this fund has supplemented Nevada’s budget with more than $31 million since the fund’s inception, and has had a direct impact on the programs being developed to ensure vaccine access across the state.  Unfortunately, with the repeal of the ACA, the PPHF funds are at risk of being eliminated, and Nevada will likely suffer major public health setbacks as a result.

A Surge in State Specific Immunization Related Bills

Read more…

Autism Expert Agrees: It’s Time to Shift the Focus Off of Vaccines

March 15, 2017 216 comments

ASFAs the Chief Science Officer at the Autism Science Foundation, and an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Rutgers University, Alycia Halladay, PhD, is concerned about the distraction that vaccines have become in the world of autism research.

Almost a decade ago, a small and now discredited study on vaccines and autism helped Andrew Wakefield gain worldwide notoriety and opened the flood gates of worry for parents around the world.  Parents had long since relied on vaccines to protect their children from dangerous preventable diseases, but as these diseases became less apparent, vaccine safety was thrown into question along with a concern over the rising rates of autism.

Today, most people recognize that there is no credible evidence of any link between vaccines and autism.  And yet, the vaccine-autism myth continues to be a topic of concern among parents and the focus of much of mainstream media.

Could it be that the vaccine-autism myth is so intrinsically woven into today’s social narrative that we just can’t let it go? 

In an article written for STAT news, Dr. Hallady eloquently refutes the vaccine-autism myth and goes a crucial step further by offering readers a glimpse of the promising research on the true causes of autism. She also expresses deep concern that because the media continues to keep the vaccine-autism conversation alive, the public is missing out on important scientific discoveries that are being made in the world of autism research.

She explains:

During the last year or so, there has been a steady drumbeat of media coverage about autism and vaccines. Politicians, celebrities, the presidential election, film festivals, and mythical conspiracies all contributed to mainstream news and media story lines on the false link between vaccines and autism. Many of them had nothing to do with real science, nor were they the result of research findings that helped families.

But during the same period, a dozen new scientific findings were published on legitimate environmental factors, including toxic chemicals, maternal infection during pregnancy, and chronic stress. These rarely made headlines, with the media spotlight remaining on the myth. Yet knowledge and understanding of these real environmental factors could lead to actual therapies or ways to prevent the debilitating symptoms of autism.

Dr. Halladay’s article clarifies the often misunderstood concern about autism and “environmental factors”.  She explains the difference between a “risk” and a “cause” and states that as of today, no single environmental factor has met the criteria for being a cause of autism.  However, the latest scientific discoveries do suggest that “environmental factors appear to work together, or interact with genes, to lead to autism”.  Below are few examples of the environmental factors she notes as having been linked to autism:

Exposure to these factors elevates a child’s risk of developing autism anywhere between two and four times. An exhaustive review of these factors was just published in the Annual Review of Public Health.

vaxnoautism1Of course, no discussion of vaccines and autism would be complete without exploring the issue of mercury.  Dr. Halladay laments the ongoing claims that mercury in vaccines may be the culprit for the increase in autism, particularly since ethyl mercury (also known as thimerosal) has not only been removed from nearly all childhood vaccines, but has also been exonerated as a potential cause based on an abundance of scientific evidence.

Dr. Halladay concludes her piece with a passionate plea.  As someone who has dedicated her life to studying autism, she wants the media and the public to move on from the vaccine-autism conversation so that we can focus on real autism research:

Researchers and advocacy organizations have moved on from the vaccine-autism story line to focus on issues that truly affect families, such as understanding the real causes of autism, finding ways to diagnose it earlier, developing more effective treatments, and offering better access to those treatments. With every minute wasted talking about the autism-vaccine myth and every dollar spent on researching this dead end, we are losing ground and failing families who deserve real answers on the causes of autism and more help for their loved ones.

It is our hope that her message will be echoed by researchers, advocacy organizations and the general public, and that our readers will recognize the value of sharing this article with legislators and the media in order to educate them on their role in helping to change the narrative.

We are at a pivotal moment in time.  It would be foolish and wasteful to spend precious resources rehashing a myth that we can confidently put behind us.  Now is the time to focus on the real scientific discoveries that will lead to determinants of environmental risk factors for autism and beneficial treatments for families impacted by autism.  As advocates for children, it is incumbent upon all of us to support the science that will lead to better health for all children.