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Remembering Nadja, another precious child lost to measles

July 11, 2018 4 comments

By Erica DeWald

Europe has been in the midst of a measles outbreak since 2016 which, so far, has resulted in 48 deaths.  Unfortunately, many people are at risk, including children who are not yet old enough to receive the vaccine and those with compromised immune systems.

One mother in Serbia has chosen to share the story of losing her young daughter, Nadja, in the hopes that it will encourage other parents to vaccinate their children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

 

Nadja

 

Nadja was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition when she was a year old. Her hypoparathyroidism, due to hypoglycaemia and hypocalcaemia, meant she could not keep her calcium levels high enough through simple oral therapy. She needed regular IV injections at her local hospital. The condition also made it harder for Nadja to fight infections and placed her among the high-risk group of people who cannot be vaccinated. She instead relied on those around her to protect her from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In January of this year, Nadja was admitted to the hospital but there was no room in the isolation unit. She ended up sharing a room for three days with another liNadja while hospitalizedttle boy. Her mother, Dragana, later learned the boy had been diagnosed with measles. Dragana recounted,

“At the moment, my world collapsed, I knew that she would get it, but again in the depths of the soul I hoped she will not.”

Three days later, measles caused Nadja to develop a high fever and she fell into a coma from which she never awoke. Despite multiple attempts and two resuscitations over the course of three months to stabilize Nadja, she died on April 4 from heart failure.

Measles is not just a threat in Europe. Here in the United States we are seeing increasing outbreaks of the disease. In the past week health officials have reported confirmed or suspected cases in Oregon and Washington as well as New Jersey. Since 2014, over 1,000 cases of measles have occurred in the U.S. placing communities at serious risk. That’s because it’s one of the most easily spread viruses we know of, and as many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles will get pneumonia, and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis. As a result, the disease still kills hundreds of thousands of children each year around the world.

Dragana has begun a Facebook page to remember her daughter and to warn others of the deadly consequences of measles. Please take a moment to follow her page and share it with your friends and families in remembrance of Nadja.

 

Have questions about the dangers of measles or what you can do to stop the spread of outbreaks?

 

CA Medical Board Takes Action to Protect Children’s Health: Dr. Bob Sears Placed on Probation

By Amy Pisani,  Executive Director, ECBT (mother of two fully vaccinated teenage boys)

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Last week, the Medical Board of California ordered a 35-month probation for Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician who is best known for hawking an “alternative” vaccination schedule for young children, promoting the unproven theory that vaccines cause autism, and being a champion for parents who seek to claim exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

The revocation of Dr. Sears’ medical license was stayed by the Medical Board, which allows him to continue practicing medicine, as long as he follows certain requirements of his probation including taking Board-approved medical education and ethics classes, and allowing a Board-approved monitor to watch and report on his medical practices. Through this disciplinary order, the Medical Board is providing Sears with a clear warning against future misconduct.

The overall charges against Sears include gross negligence and repeated negligence in his care and treatment of a patient (a child called J.G), and failure to maintain adequate and accurate records. The formal accusation brought by the Executive Director of the Medical Board of California Kimberly Kirchmeyer provides specific examples of Sears’ departures from the medical standard of care, “which require that a physician who is evaluating a patient for possible reaction to vaccines obtain a detailed history of the vaccines previously received as well as the reaction that occurred. Based on that information the physician should provide an evidence-based recommendation for future immunizations.” The accusation continues “the respondent was grossly negligent and departed from the standard of care in that he did not obtain the basic information necessary for decision making prior to determining to exclude the possibility of future vaccines leaving both the patient, the patient’s mother, and his future contacts at risk for preventable and communicable diseases.”

Forbes’ contributor Tara Haelle, who has been following this case against Dr. Bob Sears since last year, noted that:

“the charges involve much more than writing a vaccine exemption letter. According to the accusation, Sears failed to test the same toddler for neurological problems after the child was hit on the head with a hammer and failed to investigate alleged vaccine reactions that, if they did occur, would have been life-threatening. He also prescribed garlic for the child’s ear infection despite there being no evidence of its effectiveness. Such departures from the medical standard of care prompt questions about what other ways Sears might be practicing negligently beyond this complaint.”

Ms. Haelle’s latest Forbes article offers insight into Dr. Sears’ extensive history of anti-vaccination practices and advocacy efforts:

“When physicians practice this type of substandard care, it places children’s lives at risk. Dr. Sears’ bias against vaccines flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the safety and necessity of timely vaccinations,” Amy Pisani, MS, executive director of Every Child By Two told me.

“With notoriety comes great responsibility. Dr. Sears’ promotion of his ‘alternative vaccine schedule’ has helped perpetuate the myth that vaccines are not safe for children, which is shameful,” Pisani said. “This ruling should send a strong message to providers that the practice of medicine must be based on evidence, not anecdote, and signing vaccine waivers without medical necessity is not an acceptable practice.”

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, details the legal ramifications of Sears’ probation and offers insight into Sears’ past actions in a recent Skeptical Raptor post 

Like many moms, I was an avid follower of the advice of Dr. Bill Sears, the father or Dr. Bob Spears and the well-known pediatrician who offered advice to parents on child rearing and attachment parenting. Over the last decade, it has been very disturbing to see Dr. Bob using his father’s name and the Sears Parenting Library to sell his books, which contain inaccurate vaccination information and fuel parents’ fears about vaccines. Dr. Bob Sears’ “alternative” vaccination schedule, which encourages parents to either skip or delay recommended vaccines for their children, is dangerous and ignores the importance of following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommended schedule.

The CDC sets the U.S. immunization schedules for children, teens and adults based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The ACIP, which is made up of medical and public health experts, carefully considers many factors, including the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, before recommending a vaccine for use. As a result, the CDC’s recommended childhood immunization schedule (from birth to 18 years old) is the ONLY vaccination schedule for children and teens that is rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness. No “alternative” or “non-standard” schedule has ever been tested. The CDC’s recommended schedule is also endorsed by the leading medical groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The vaccines in the schedule are carefully timed to provide protection to children when they are most vulnerable to diseases, and when the vaccines will produce the strongest response from their immune system.

Learn more about how the vaccine schedule is determined and why it is never okay to delay a child’s vaccines.

 

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices June 2018 Meeting Update

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The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) held their second of three annual meetings at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA last week.  ECBT staff took advantage of the opportunity to view the meeting via webcast, and strongly encourage members of the public to take advantage of this technology in order to gain a better understanding of the deliberations that take place to ensure the ongoing safety and effectiveness of the vaccines licensed for use in the U.S.

The CDC sets the recommended immunization schedules for people of all ages in the U.S. based on recommendations from the ACIP. The ACIP establishes, updates and continually evaluates all the vaccine recommendations that are made in the United States for infants, adolescents and adults. These guidelines are considered the gold standard among healthcare providers. The ACIP consists of 15 voting members, 8 ex officio members and 30 non-voting representatives who participate voluntarily. In addition to the three meetings per year, which are open to the public, ACIP members serve on various work groups that are active throughout the year. Work groups review the latest studies on specific vaccines (including safety and efficacy reports), in order to provide recommendations to the larger committee.

Last week the ACIP voted on recommendations for influenza (flu) and anthrax vaccinations, and discussed HPV, mumps, shingles (herpes zoster), Japanese encephalitis, and pneumococcal vaccines. Votes and highlights from the discussions are detailed below.

 

Influenza (Flu) Vaccination Discussion and Vote

It will come as no surprise to our readers that the flu virus hit a brutal blow to people of all ages during the very severe 2017-18 flu season in the U.S., striking at nearly the same time nationwide.

 

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Influenza A (H3N2) was the predominant circulating strain and this year the effectiveness of the vaccine against this strain was approximately 24% (similar to the previous flu season). Effectiveness against the influenza A (H1N1) strain was 65% and 49% against the influenza B (Yamagata) strain.

 

 

 

Now the good news – vaccination reduced flu-related visits to healthcare providers (outpatient) by 40% among all people ages 6 months and older. Among adults, the vaccine reduced outpatient visits and hospitalizations by 22%.

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The ACIP listened to vaccine safety reports provided by representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccine manufacturers, and the vaccine safety surveillance systems in the U.S. – the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) which is a collaboration between CDC and nine healthcare organizations that began in 1990 and analyzes up to 10 million immunization records per year to ensure ongoing safety.  After an extensive review of the safety of this season’s flu vaccines, the ACIP confirmed that there were no vaccine safety signals of concern including anaphylaxis, narcolepsy and Guillian-Barre Syndrome, each of which received increased scrutiny due to a number of news and anecdotal reports in recent years.

The ACIP approved the following influenza recommendations for the 2018-19 season:

Everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated with any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine (IIV, recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV], or LAIV), as indicated. No preference is given for any one vaccine over another. In its February meeting, the ACIP once again recommended LAIV (the nasal spray vaccine known as FluMist) for healthy, non-pregnant people 2 through 49 years old during the 2018-19 season. This recommendation was made after ACIP reviewed effectiveness data presented by the manufacturers of FluMist.

Of Note: The Redbook Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who typically endorses the recommendations of the ACIP, have stated a preference for the flu shot (IIV or RIV) over the nasal spray vaccine (LAIV), recommending that pediatricians only give the nasal spray as a last resort. This decision by the AAP is not without controversy as it may lead to confusion among parents and their providers. ECBT Board Member Dr. Paul Offit recently created a Medscape video explaining why he agrees with the ACIP’s decision to recommend the use of FluMist in children based on the effectiveness data.

 

Pneumococcal Vaccination Discussion

Two pneumococcal vaccines are currently recommended for all adults over the age of 65 – one dose of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) with a booster dose of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV). ACIP is re-examining whether PCV13 should be routinely recommended for otherwise healthy older adults. Some experts believe the childhood recommendations for routine vaccination with PCV13 is sufficiently lowering the disease burden in adults by reducing the circulation of the disease in communities. In data presented to the ACIP, however, it seems there are persistent disparities in the rate of pneumococcal disease and vaccine uptake  pneumoacip062018

among minority populations and those in poverty, which puts into question whether it would be wise to eliminate the vaccine recommendation for adults.  The ACIP will continue to deliberate the data and have continued discussions into 2019.

 

Anthrax Vaccination Discussion and Vote

The anthrax vaccine is currently approved for use by the FDA for 18-65 year olds, and is usually given to select populations of adults (i.e. military). As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CDC review their plans for responding to an anthrax “mass event”, they have asked ACIP to offer guidance on how best to use the vaccine in the event of emergency. Specifically, they asked ACIP whether the anthrax vaccine would be equally effective and safe if they had to administer the vaccine in fewer or smaller doses to ensure there was enough vaccine for everyone affected.  Also under consideration was the utilization of different types of needles to be used in the event of a needle shortage. The current vaccine is given subcutaneously, not intramuscularly, like typical vaccines. Intramuscular needles are therefore more readily available.

After reviewing the data, the ACIP agreed unanimously that reduced dosing would still save lives, as would offering the vaccine intramuscularly instead of subcutaneously. There was no data, however, on whether reduced doses given intramuscularly would be equally effective. The Committee also offered their recommendations on the duration of antimicrobial treatment following vaccination. There is a new intramuscular anthrax vaccine on the horizon which may help federal agencies better plan for a possible emergency situation.

The ACIP made the following recommendations:

The intramuscular route of administration may be used if the subcutaneous route presents clinical, operational, or logistical challenges that may delay or prevent effective vaccination.

  • Should there be an inadequate supply of anthrax vaccine available for Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), either 2 full doses or 3 half doses of AVA may be used to expand vaccine coverage.
  • In immunocompetent individuals 18-65 years of age, antimicrobials given in conjunction with vaccine may be discontinued at 42 days after the first vaccine dose or 2 weeks after the last vaccine dose, whichever comes later.

 

Japanese Encephalitis Vaccination Discussion

The cell culture-derived Japanese encephalitis vaccine (JE-VC) is both safe and effective, but given how few U.S. travelers contract the disease, ACIP is re-evaluating their recommendations. They are in the midst of re-evaluating the cost effectiveness of the vaccine and whether their recommendations should be more targeted. ACIP will continue deliberations at a future meeting.

 

Mumps Vaccination Discussion

Mumps outbreaks continue to crop up throughout the nation. From late 2016 through 2017, there were 56 outbreaks, which included 3,914 cases, and in 2018, there have already been 30 outbreaks, including 1,415 cases. The ACIP previously recommended the use of a 3rd dose of mumps virus-containing vaccine (MMR) for people identified at increased risk during a mumps outbreak. img_0681.pngDuring the June, 2018 ACIP meeting, the CDC provided guidance for public health officials to assist them on the use of a 3rd dose of MMR vaccine during an outbreak, including identifying groups of people at risk for acquiring mumps during an outbreak; assessing transmission in the settings to determine if groups are at increased risk; and how to implement a 3rd dose recommendation.

 

Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccination Discussion

In October 2017, ACIP made recommendations for a new recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV) called Shingrix. The vaccine is recommended for the prevention of shingles and related complications for adults 50 years of age and older. It is also recommended for adults 50 and older who previously received zoster vaccine live (ZVL), and it is preferred over ZVL for the prevention of shingles and related complications.

GSK, the manufacturer of Shingrix, reported to the Committee that it is increasing the number of doses available due to high demand and shipping delays.  They are also continuing to study the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.  The CDC also continues to monitor shingles vaccine coverage and vaccine supply. As it does with all vaccines, the CDC is using U.S. safety surveillance systems – VAERS and VSD – to monitor the shingles vaccine (RZV). VAERS is a passive system that is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem, but does help to detect unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse events that might indicate a possible safety problem with a vaccine. The CDC reported that were 680 reports to VAERS between October 20, 2017 and April 27, 2018, and the majority concerned females. There were no unusual patterns or unexpected adverse events. 48 (7%) of reports involved co-administration with 1 or more other vaccines, and the most commonly reported side effects from RZV were injection site pain and pyrexia (fever).

The CDC also reported to ACIP about VSD monitoring of the shingles vaccine.  The staff of the  VSD conducted vaccine safety studies based on questions and concerns raised from the medical literature and reports to VAERS. As of May 31, 2018, 37,303 total doses of RZV were administered at the participating VSD sites. The VSD monitoring for RZV includes high priority short-term outcomes (GBS, anaphylaxis, and acute myocardial infarction); lower priority short-term outcomes for descriptive analysis (gout, local and systematic reactions); and longer-term outcomes (potential immune-mediated diseases). Evidence of safety and effectiveness of shingles vaccine in immunocompromised is currently being reviewed.

The CDC has created a number of resources for RZV. For providers, the CDC developed a report published in MMWR on vaccine administrative errors, a Continuing Medical Education program (CME) called “You Call the Shots”, a Medscape video, web pages, webinars/conferences and fact sheets. For the public, the CDC created a vaccine information statement (VIS) on the RZV, web pages and a fact sheet.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination Discussion

In October 2018, the FDA is expected to complete a review of scientific studies to determine whether 9-valent HPV vaccine (GARDASIL®9) is safe and effective for use in adults ages 27 to 45. The vaccine will continue to serve as a prophylactic to prevent new infections, and is not expected to prevent progression of the disease among those who already have a HPV infection. The ACIP is also simultaneously reviewing the evidence that has been sent to the FDA and will determine whether to recommend the vaccine if and when the FDA approves the vaccine for use among mid-aged adults. Factoring into the ACIP decision will be the fact that the overall population-level benefit will be lower among mid-aged adults than among younger populations. This is due to the fact that this

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population may have already been exposed to HPV and thus already have an infection, or have immunity against some strains of the disease. In addition they tend to have fewer new sex partners and have several other factors that will make the vaccine less beneficial (but not without merit) for this older group than for those ages 11-12, who can be vaccinated prior to exposure.

The ACIP’s HPV work group is also continuing to review data in consideration of “harmonizing” the schedule for males and females so that both populations would be recommended up to the age of 26 instead of up to age 21 for males and up to age 26 for females and will report back to the full ACIP at a future meeting.

ECBT will keep you informed on this and other deliberations of this important committee.  

Learn more about each of these vaccines and the diseases they prevent on the Vaccinate Your Family website and Facebook page.

 

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Immunization Funding is an Investment in Public Health that Saves Lives and Dollars

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

ba3f8b28-e868-42b5-b217-1d8da24ffbd8For the past two decades, every President has proposed a fiscal budget that has underfunded immunization programming. Fortunately, over the years, Congress has been steadfast in approving higher amounts. As we approach another crossroad in our fiscal planning, we must, once again, call upon Congress to properly fund critical prevention programs.  

In the following Op Ed published in The Hill, Every Child By Two Executive Director, Amy Pisani, makes the case that Congress should support the CDC’s Immunization Program to the fullest extent possible. In order to truly effect change, the program requires $1.03 billion. While it may seem like a hefty sum, the argument in favor of full funding is that an investment in public health will save lives as well as future expense. 

 

Undercutting the Immunization Program

Puts Both Lives and Dollars at Risk

 

By Amy Pisani, executive director of Every Child By Two, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases in families and individuals.

 

Earlier this month, President Trump released his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget. It notes an impressive achievement: For every $1 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spends on preventing fraud and abuse, the agency saves $5.

Whenever you can spend money to save money in government, it’s a no brainer for policymakers. Unfortunately, that rationale seems to have escaped the President on the issue of vaccination.

For every $1 we spend on childhood vaccines, we save $10.10, which is nearly double the savings of preventing fraud. The vaccines given to children born over the past two decades will result in a savings of $360 billion in direct and nearly $1.65 trillion in societal costs.

The benefits don’t end with children. The U.S. still spends nearly $26.5 billion annually treating adults over the age of 50 for just four diseases that could be prevented by vaccines: influenza, pertussis, pneumococcal disease and shingles.

The majority of these avoidable costs are borne by federal health insurance programs. Yet for the second year in a row, the President has proposed gutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Immunization Program.

This is not just a discussion of dollars saved. It’s also a matter of lives saved. Over the past 23 years the Vaccines for Children program has prevented 381 million illnesses, 855,000 early deaths and 25 million hospitalizations, but we have much more work to do.

(Click here to read the full article on The Hill)

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For information pertaining to the preparedness of our nation, and for suggestions on what we can do as a nation to make our country stronger and more resilient in the face of emerging health threats, review Vaccinate Your Family’s second annual State of the ImmUnion report here.   

Congress Proposes Big Cuts to Prevention and Public Health Fund

February 6, 2018 1 comment
by Erica DeWald, Director of Advocacy, Every Child By Two

Congress is Proposing a $2.85B Cut to Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) over 10 Years

Congress is once again developing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government from shutting down on Thursday, February 8. Every Child By Two (ECBT) is pleased to report that the proposed CR budget also includes critical funding for many public health programs including two years of funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps.

Unfortunately, it also includes a $2.85 billion cut over ten years to the nation’s Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF).

Here’s how it’s broken down (courtesy of Trust for America’s Health):

Fiscal Year Current Law Latest CR Net Cumulative Net
FY2018 $900M $900M 0 0
FY2019 $800M $900M +$100M +$100M
FY2020 $800M $1.0B +$200M +$300M
FY2021 $800M $1.0B +$200M +$500M
FY2022 $1.25B $1.1B -$150M +$350M
FY2023 $1.0B $1.1B +$100M +$450M
FY2024 $1.7B $1.1B -$600M -$150M
FY2025 $2.0B $1.1B -$900M -$1.05B
FY2026 $2.0B $1.1B -$900M -$1.95B
FY2027 $2.0B $1.1B -$900M -$2.85B
FY2028 $2.0B $0B -$2.0B -$4.85B

As we’ve shared in previous updates, the PPHF accounts for 53% of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Immunization Program budget. Any cut could mean serious reductions in our country’s and states’ abilities to:

  • Support the science that informs our national immunization policy.
  • Provide a safety net to uninsured, low-income adults by enabling vaccine purchases;
  • Monitor the safety of vaccines.
  • Educate healthcare providers.
  • Perform community outreach.
  • Conduct surveillance, laboratory testing and epidemiology in response to disease outbreaks.

With the U.S. continuously facing costly outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza, measles and pertussis (also known as whooping cough), now is not the time to weaken the backbone of our nation’s public health infrastructure.

We are watching these budget developments closely.

While it’s somewhat reassuring that Congress is replacing the money they cut from the PPHF to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in this CR, no cut is acceptable. On the positive side, this delay in finalizing the budget does give us time to shore up support among Congressional Members for the critical services funded by the PPHF.

We will continue to send you updates on immunization funding and will be sure to let you know if we need to begin reaching out to our Members of Congress.

Thank you as always for your support of immunizations!



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Every Child By Two/Vaccinate Your Family has prepared our second annual State of the ImmUnion report to examine how strong our defenses truly are against vaccine-preventable diseases and what we can do as public health advocates and legislators to make our country stronger and more resilient in the face of emerging health threats.

We hope this report will offer you insights into areas of improvement to strengthen our protection against dangerous, and potentially deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases.

The State of the ImmUnion: A Report on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the U.S.

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

As we continue to reflect on the State of the Union this week, Every Child By Two’s Vaccinate Your Family program has prepared a special report that examines the State of the ImmUnion.

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At a time when legislators are examining ways to make our country stronger and more resilient, this report emphasizes the need to improve our defenses against emerging health threats by detailing ways in which we can protect our citizens from the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The statistics are staggering.  Vaccine preventable diseases are currently costing our economy billions of dollars, all while threatening the health of our citizens.  As an example, each year flu causes anywhere from 3,000-49,000 deaths in the U.S. and over $87 billion in direct and indirect costs to our economy.  And this is just the toll of one particular disease over the course of one year.  There are plenty of other vaccine preventable diseases that we can, and should, turn our attention to.  There are also many actions we can take as a nation to raise immunization rates and lower disease incidence, all while saving both lives and money.

So what is it that public health advocates and legislators can do?

In the second annual State of the ImmUnion report, Vaccinate Your Family details the challenges that lie ahead and offers specific ways in which legislators can support strong vaccine policies.

Immunization supporters across the country are encouraged to share this resource with legislators and call upon them to strengthen the State of the ImmUnion.

Simply send them an email or tag them in a tweet with a link to the report (http://vaccinateyourfamily.org/soti).

Here are some suggested messages you can use:

Preventable diseases cost the U.S. economy billions each year! Legislators (tag key state/federal legislators) can help reduce these costs by ensuring all citizens have access to life-saving and cost-saving #vaccines. Get the facts from Vaccinate Your Family in their 2018 #StateoftheImmUnion report. http://vaccinateyourfamily.org/soti #SOTI2018

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What should legislators be doing to make the #SOTU more resilient in the face of emerging health threats? Strengthen the #StateoftheImmUnion with suggestions found in Vaccinate Your Family’s #SOTI2018 report. http://vaccinateyourfamily.org/soti

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Disease outbreaks like seasonal flu cost money and lives. Find out how policymakers can help ensure a strong #StateoftheImmUnion in Vaccinate Your Family’s #SOTI2018 report. http://vaccinateyourfamily.org/soti

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Thank you for your continued support and stay tuned for updates on how Vaccinate Your Family’s State of the ImmUnion report can be used to advocate for strong immunization policies throughout the year. 

Is This Season’s Flu More Severe Than Usual or Just Highly Active?

January 13, 2018 10 comments

At this point in the flu season people often wonder if all the media hype is part of an orchestrated effort to panic people about flu, or if it is really signaling serious concern.

There are lots of flu stories in the news these days.  From reports of  74 Californian’s who’ve died from flu – five times the number seen at this point last year – to 13 school districts in TX closing due to the high number of flu cases among students, we’re left to wonder….

Is this year’s flu season more severe than usual or just highly active at the moment?

A recent CDC media briefing has helped clarify the following concerns regarding the latest flu activity in the U.S.: 

Right now, flu is widespread everywhere.  

One of the most notable differences between this season and others is in relation to the geographic spread of flu. This is the first time over the course of 13 years of surveillance data that the entire nation is experiencing widespread flu at the exact same time, as can be noted by the color of CDC’s flu surveillance map below.

FluWeeklyReportActivity is severe right now.

 

One of the ways the CDC tracks influenza activity is to record the number of lab confirmed cases of flu and hospitalizations by week. What they’ve noted is a very rapid increase in the number of people seeing their healthcare providers for flu diagnosis, along with a rapid rise in the numbers of people being hospitalized with lab confirmed flu. For instance, this week’s surveillance data indicates that there’s been 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the U.S., which is up considerably from the 13.7 number recorded last week.

So far this season, influenza A (H3N2), has been the most prevalent strain in circulation. Unfortunately, historically it is often the strain linked to more severe illness, especially among children and older individuals above the age of 65. Interestingly enough, the current flu surveillance observations seem to be in line with two more previous H3N2 dominant seasons; the 2014-2015 and 2012-2013 seasons.WHOPHL02_small

Additionally the hospitalizations so far this season seem to be in line with other H3N2 predominant seasons, with the highest rates among those over the age of 65, those between 50-64, and children under 5 years of age.

Flu can cause mild disease in some, but severe disease and death in others.

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Sadly, there have been as many as 30 pediatric deaths so far this season. While children are at great risk, there are plenty of reports of otherwise healthy adults who have been hospitalized or died from flu this season.

Peak season may have started early, but there are many more weeks to go.

Speaking to the media on behalf of the CDC on Friday, Dr.  Jernigan explained,

“If we look at the timing of the season, even if we have hit the top of the curve or the peak of the seasonal activity, it still means we have a lot more flu to go.”

He went on to suggest that there will likely be at least 11 to 13 more weeks of elevated influenza activity this season, before activity begins to subside. Even though it can take about two weeks for protection from vaccination to set in, Dr. Jernigan explained that we still have a lot of flu season to get through and that vaccination efforts should continue as long as influenza viruses are circulating.

While we are seeing a lot of H3N2 circulating now, we are also seeing H1N1 show up in states that have already had H3N2 activity. And we know that B viruses also tend to show up later in the season. Each of these strains are covered in the vaccine, so flu vaccination now can still help to prevent, or lessen the severity of flu throughout the remainder of the season.

Vaccination is our best defense.  

While flu vaccination is far from perfect, it remains our best defense. Not only can it help prevent flu, but it can also help lessen the severity of symptoms if a vaccinated person does end up getting infected.  This can reduce the chances of an individual being hospitalized or dying from flu.

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In fact, a recent study showed that influenza vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65% among healthy children and by 51% among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions. Another study indicated that many older adults benefit from repeated flu vaccination. When getting vaccinated in both the current and previous seasons, the study found flu vaccination was 74% effective in preventing ICU admissions in older individuals and 70% effective in preventing deaths among older adults.

Manufacturers are reporting that they’ve shipped more than 151 million doses of flu vaccine this season, so there shouldn’t be a problem finding a flu vaccine in your area.  Simply refer to the flu vaccine finder for assistance.

We won’t know preliminary flu vaccine effectiveness until February.  

Read more…