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How One Man is Credited With Saving 8 Million Lives a Year  

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Saving 8 million lives a year may seem like a stretch, but not for Dr. Maurice Hilleman.

Hilleman_scope2Hailed as one of the world’s greatest scientists, Dr. Hilleman helped develop 9 of the 14 routinely recommended vaccines in the U.S. And in 1957, he was the first person to successfully predict an influenza pandemic when he read of an outbreak occurring in Hong Kong. This led him to develop a vaccine for the U.S. that likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives. His life spanned one of the most productive periods in vaccine innovation, and since Dr. Hilleman was right in the middle of it, his life story is truly inspiring.  Fortunately for science enthusiasts, it is now the focus of a new vaccine-related documentary, HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children.

Developed as part of the Vaccine Makers Project, produced by Medical History Pictures and sponsored by the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the film includes exclusive interviews with Dr. Hilleman and his peers, rare archival footage, and 3-D animations.

The film is meant to not only introduce Dr. Hilleman and his amazing accomplishments, but to also describe the incredible scientific discovery and effort required to create safe and effective vaccines.

Over the last several months, the film has been shown by institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. HILLEMAN has also been featured at immunization coalition conferences and national professional meetings, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of School Nurses, National Science Teachers Association, and National Association of Biology Teachers.

To complement the film, the Vaccine Makers Project has developed comprehensive educational materials for elementary, middle, high school and college students. 

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Educators are encouraged to utilize this flexible curriculum in whole or part to support learning objectives related to infectious diseases, the immune system, and how humans fight disease through technologies such as vaccines.

The Vaccine Makers Project has also collaborated with Families Fighting Flu (FFF) to present an eight-minute excerpt of HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children to remind families of the importance of annual influenza vaccines. Families Fighting Flu has made the film a central component of its fall awareness efforts. According to Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu,

“Every year, we remind families of the importance of influenza vaccination, often with members of our organization sharing their own personal experiences. This year, we hope that by sharing the film clip along with our personal stories, even more families will be compelled to prioritize influenza vaccination for themselves.”

Visit the Vaccine Makers Project to view a list of upcoming film screenings, gain access to the free educational materials, or to make an inquiry about the project.

For more information about influenza, visit the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for an in-depth look at the flu vaccine and an influenza fact sheet.  And visit the Families Fighting Flu website to read stories of families who have been adversely affected by flu, view flu facts and download the Community Toolkit and other educational materials

Scientists Travel to Remote Village in Search of Clues to Monkeypox Virus

November 4, 2017 Leave a comment

In this day of globalization, outbreaks of infectious diseases that begin in remote villages in far away countries can reach major cities on any continent in a matter of days.  To complicate matters, animal-borne infectious diseases that jump to humans are on the rise and there is still so much we don’t know about these diseases.

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“Understanding the virus and how it spreads during an outbreak is key to stopping it and protecting people from the deadly disease.” Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post

As an example, reports of monkeypox, a rare but fatal disease, have been on the rise since late last year. Monkeypox is a cousin to the deadly smallpox virus which initially infects people through contact with wild animals (though not necessarily monkeys) which is then spread from person to person. The disease produces a fever and a rash that often turns into painful lesions. Even though most people have never heard of monkeypox, the U.S. government has included it on their list of pathogens with the greatest potential to threaten human health.  

The concern with monkeypox is that there is still so much we don’t know about the disease. However, what we do know is that there is no cure and it is deadly in 1 out of 10 of its victims. 

So, while some parents in the U.S. have spent the year fighting for their right to exempt their children from school-required vaccines, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo Republic, the Central African Republic and, most recently, Nigeria.

But that doesn’t mean monkeypox isn’t a threat to the U.S.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “experienced a monkeypox outbreak in 2003 when an exotic pet dealer imported 800 animals from Africa, including giant pouched rats, dormice and rope squirrels”, some of which were believed to be infected with monkeypox. While the animals were in a facility in Illinois, some of them infected prairie dogs that were later sold as pets and 47 people in six Midwestern states were sickened.

As of January, the Congo Republic of Africa has been experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox that has since spread to at least 88 suspected cases throughout the country, with 6 documented deaths so far.  Out of concern for this outbreak, the Congolese government recently invited researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their country to help track the disease and train local scientists.

As American scientists traveled deep into the Congo rain forest to a village at the epicenter of the outbreak, a Washington Post reporter and photographer had the rare opportunity to accompany them. Their amazing journey, and the fascinating work that the scientists did there, is featured in a special Washington Post story entitled CHASING A KILLER.

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The article chronicles the trip from Atlanta to the Congo Republic, and details the specific efforts made to sample the animal population and bring those samples back to Atlanta for analysis. Not only does the story unfold like a novel, but the photography captures the primitive conditions and the importance of this continuing work.

Hopefully, readers will appreciate the ongoing efforts that are being made to not only improve global health, but to protect our public health here in America.  

 

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.

Flu Fact of the Week

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…

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…

Help Stop Devastating Cuts to Immunization Infrastructure

July 20, 2017 18 comments

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The House is moving forward on budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) and has suggested a $50 million cut to immunization funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This 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; and
  • Conduct surveillance, laboratory testing and epidemiology in response to disease outbreaks.
With the U.S. currently facing costly outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as 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 not asking for a funding increase, we are simply asking that Congress not reduce current levels of immunization funding.
States have already had to make tough decisions because of a $4 million cut in funds in the 2017 budget.

Please call your Representative today and tell him or her:

“Please reject the proposed $50 million cut to the CDC Immunization Program and maintain level funding for FY18. A funding reduction would have serious consequences for communities across the country at a time when outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles are on the rise.”

SOTI-Report_Cover.pngYou can also reference Every Child By Two’s 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 ImmUnion stronger and more resilient in the face of emerging health threats. You may even want to share this report with your Representative since it highlights the successes of vaccines, the economic and societal savings incurred from vaccines, challenges facing the public health system and key areas that we need to focus on to achieve optimal protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Please use Who Is My Representative? to quickly find your Member of Congress in the House.

Thank you for your continued support of immunizations and their critical role in protecting our health!

Updates from June 2017 Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

July 13, 2017 2 comments

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Recently, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met to discuss several important developments concerning vaccines. As you may be aware, this impartial group of experts advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on all matters related to vaccine recommendations. In the coming years, the ability of the CDC and public health departments to implement the recommendations of this group may be under threat from proposed provisions within the health care reform bills and congressional budget cuts.

The activities of the ACIP are supported by staff at the CDC, which receives annual appropriations from the federal government to fulfill its duties.  This federal immunization funding is at risk of being drastically cut if the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) is eliminated. (Click here to see a breakdown of the impact of the elimination of the PPHF funds by state.) If Congress follows the recommendation of the President, funding will be reduced by another 14% beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

The result is that CDC may no longer be able to fully support its immunization functions including:

  • ACIP staffing;
  • Vaccine purchase and supply management;
  • Vaccine safety monitoring;
  • Education initiatives;
  • Disease surveillance;
  • Outbreak response; and
  • Funding support for state, territory, and city immunization programs.

An example of the critical activities conducted by the CDC includes support for the ACIP.  This committee of experts from diverse fields such as vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and\preventive medicine meets three times a year to review and discuss vaccine research and scientific data related to vaccine effectiveness and safety, clinical trial results, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease or changes in vaccine supply.

There are 15 voting members, 8 ex officio members who represent other federal agencies with responsibility for immunization programs in the United States, and 30 non-voting representatives of liaison organizations that bring related immunization expertise. All members volunteer their time and come from many leading professional and public organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the American Geriatrics Society. This is the only meeting to gather such a comprehensive group of experts whose aim it is to protect individual and public health.

The current health care reform discussions that are happening in Congress may have a direct impact on this Committee. Please continue to reach out to your Representatives and Senators to let them know the importance of keeping PPHF and CDC fully funded. (You can find your Members of Congress at http://whoismyrepresentative.com/ and some suggestive language to share here.) 

The value of the ACIP can not be overstated. During their most recent committee meeting in June, members discussed several important issues recapped in the summary below.

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