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.
- N.M.A. board member, Leslie Maier lost her son Chris on March 2nd
- M.O.M. Judy Miller lost her daughter Beth on March 12th
And there have been plenty of others who never got their “shot” at life.
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 University, Old 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.
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.
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 Vaccines, Every 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.
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.
Take 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
Fake news is nothing new to vaccine advocates.
For years we’ve been countering vaccine misinformation from a large number of sites such as Mercola, Natural News, Age of Autism and dozens of others. They each have their own way of claiming that vaccine risks outweigh their benefits, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence from experts around the world that says otherwise.
Despite the fact that these sites fail to provide evidence to back up their false claims, the misinformation they routinely publish is widely circulated on social media and it’s likely that their efforts can contribute to the doubts that some Americans have about the safety and efficacy of today’s vaccines.
This is why day after day, and year after year, countless organizations like Every Child By Two, work hard to provide the public with evidence-based information about vaccines through informative websites like Vaccinate Your Family, and social media accounts like the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and @ShotofPrev Twitter account.
But this week, fake vaccine news has entered an entirely new realm and it is rather concerning.
Yesterday I woke to such headlines as, ‘Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website’ and ‘President Trump Signed an Executive Order Banning Childhood Vaccinations for 90 Days’.
These, and other outrageous stories that are circulating on the internet, signal a new level of hysteria that is dangerous for us all.
While it is comforting to know that these articles were irresponsibly inaccurate, I’m still left questioning the motives and intent behind these headlines. What were the the authors’ and publishers’ hoping to achieve? Read more…
In December, 2009 my sister Liza died of influenza.
She was previously healthy and only 49 years old. She sought medical care early. She was cared for at a good hospital in a major city. She had no other infections. And she was unvaccinated.
To say I was surprised is an understatement. And yet, I’m a pediatric intensive care physician.
As a clinician, it’s easy for me to trace out the clinical course of Liza’s illness. The physiology of organ failure, mechanical ventilation and critical illness are familiar to me in the same way that your daily work is to you. It’s the human side that I still haven’t come to terms with. The part where you watch your sister die over the course of three long weeks while you stand helpless. The part where you listen to a physician tell your family that they are out of options. The part where you know that they are right and you realize that influenza is sometimes too much to handle, even with all our modern medicine.
That part is much harder to process.
Her symptoms started with fever, but progressed to vomiting after a few days. She went to the urgent care clinic twice over the course of a few days before ending up in the emergency department of the local hospital. She had begun to experience difficulty breathing, and the emergency physician noted that the oxygen saturation in her blood was very low. They put her on oxygen, and an x-ray revealed that both her lungs were filled with fluid. A condition that led to her being diagnosed with pneumonia.
You see, your lungs are supposed to have air in them. They should look like sponges. Pneumonia is just the term we physicians use to describe the situation when fluid, infection, and inflammation fill those little air spaces in the sponge.
Pneumonia can come from viruses or bacteria. If your pneumonia is caused by a bacteria, you can get antibiotics to kill the bacteria. However, if your pneumonia is caused by a virus, like influenza, there is not much we can do but ride it out and wait for your own immune system to clear it. The simple fact is that we just don’t have very good medications for viruses. Tamiflu can be prescribed and it might slow down the virus, but it doesn’t kill it or stop it.
So, they did the only thing they really could do, and started her on IV Tamiflu. She was moved to the intensive care unit downtown, and within the next few hours she struggled to breathe and her oxygen saturations continued to fall. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and the hope was that her lungs would recover after a few days. After all, it was ‘just the flu’.
We never did get to speak with her again.
In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.
Some sources say the players had fallen ill with a “flu-like bug”, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean. It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.
Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu”, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.
Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu” in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler. The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”. To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal. Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.
In an interview on NFL.com, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,
“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill. They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good. It could be good for those players. A lot of them play well.”
I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu. He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.
This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.
The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year. Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.
Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children. Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine. She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week. As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.” Read more…
The Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) recently examined the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies. They tracked progress and vulnerabilities, and included a review of state and federal public health preparedness policies. In their report titled Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, they found that 26 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower on 10 key indicators of public health preparedness.
As Every Child By Two continues to report on the State of the ImmUnion, we’ve asked Trust for America’s Health to elaborate on the vaccine section of their report in the following guest post co-authored by Dara Alpert Lieberman, MPP, Senior Government Relations Manager and Albert Lang, Senior Communications Manager.
The Importance of Vaccines Can Never be Overstated
“Some of the greatest public health successes of the past century — including the worldwide eradication of smallpox and the elimination of polio, measles and rubella in the United States — are the result of successful vaccination programs.”
Yet, somewhere along the way we lost our wonder in the awe-inspiring results vaccines produce.
A recent model estimated that, from 1994-2013, the Vaccines for Children program prevented as many as 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths at a net savings of $1.38 trillion in societal costs. And, each year, we know that three million lives are saved because vaccines exist and are administered. According to the CDC:
- Nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
- More than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921, before there was a vaccine. Only one case of diphtheria has been reported to CDC since 2004.
- An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected 12.5 million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000 miscarriages. In 2012, 9 cases of rubella were reported to CDC.
If you think this is hyperbole, remember that we effectively eliminated measles in the United States in 2000, yet, since 2014, we have experienced a resurgent number of measles cases, largely among people who were unvaccinated.
In our recent report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, we found that just 10 states vaccinated at least half of their population against the seasonal flu.
We like to use this as a bit of a proxy indicator. Basically, if we can’t vaccine a large portion of the population for something that is more or less the norm, what are the odds we could quickly vaccinate a majority of the population during a pandemic. For example, if there was a vaccine for Zika, would the nation been able to dispense it?
Another lesson we can draw from vaccination rates: when we become complacent, our preparedness suffers. We can’t let vaccine complacency continue. To improve vaccination rates, TFAH’s report included policy recommendations such as: Read more…
Teens and young adults have a tendency to believe they’re completely invincible. But their lifestyle – which often involves high levels of stress, inadequate amounts of sleep and close living quarters – can put them at an increased risk of certain infections such as flu, mumps, meningitis and HPV. As students return to class after winter break, they’re reunited with classmates, roommates, and professors who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during their travels to other states or other countries.
While it’s impossible to prevent every cough and sniffle, parents can help protect their kids by ensuring they’re up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines.
So what are all the vaccines that are recommended for teens and young adults?
And wouldn’t they be required for school anyway?
Vaccine requirements vary by state and don’t necessarily include all the vaccines that the CDC recommends. Therefore, as winter break come to an end, parents should review their students’ immunization records and arrange for them to get any missing shots before they return to class.
Here are a few of the diseases that students should be protected against.
Influenza is a dangerous viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the U.S., even among health people of all ages. For the best protection, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.
Unfortunately, while flu vaccination rates are typically the highest among children, rates tend to drop among teens and young adults. If your college student hasn’t already received their annual flu vaccine it’s not too late. Bring them to their healthcare provider or local pharmacy to get them protected before they return to campus. Although it can take up to two weeks to develop antibodies post-vaccination, flu season often extends well into Spring, so students will benefit from protection for many months to come.
Mumps may not be considered “common” in the U.S. thanks to a 99% decrease in mumps cases once mumps vaccination began in 1967, but there have been several mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the past year, and approximately 4,258 cases across 46 states and DC in 2016.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that crowded environments, such a large classes and dormitory living can all contribute to the likelihood of outbreaks. Also, since mumps is spread primarily through saliva, coughing and sneezing, teen behaviors such as kissing or sharing plates, utensils, cups, lipstick or cigarettes, are all factors that can increase the likelihood of transmission. Read more…