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Rise in Vaccine Hesitancy Related to Pursuit of Purity: A Conversation with Professor Larson

This article was originally published in Horizon magazine by Gary Finnegan. It is being republished  to provide much needed perspective on the issues pertaining to vaccine hesitancy around the world.

 

The rise of alternative health practices and a quest for purity can partly explain the falling confidence in vaccines which is driving outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles, according to Heidi Larson, professor of anthropology, risk and decision medicine at the UK’s London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. She is working to understand the causes of vaccine hesitancy in order to devise ways of rebuilding trust.

Why would people opt out of recommended vaccines?

‘Most people have their recommended vaccines but many do not. In some cases, people are missing out on immunisation because they cannot access vaccines. But there is a growing and concerning trend that shows people with access and education are saying “no thanks”. This is a real challenge because it’s driven by belief and it’s difficult to change people’s minds when they have decided that they don’t want or need a vaccine.’

Our 2016 study in 67 countries found that Europe was the most sceptical region in the world.

Heidi Larson, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK 

What are the specific reasons people give when declining to immunise their child?

‘Sometimes there are concerns about vaccine ingredients, usually based on a misinterpretation of the science. There is misinformation circulating online about, for example, some compounds that contain metals. But there are also strong underlying beliefs linked to religion, philosophy and politics. In the US, some states allow philosophical exemptions from mandatory vaccination – although California repealed this opt-out option after a major measles outbreak in Disneyland.

‘One of the biggest lessons of our research is that you can never assume what’s in people’s mind nor assume that simply explaining science can change their opinion. People’s reasons for rejecting vaccines could stem from a bad experience at a healthcare facility, general distrust in the government, in medicine or in industry – it’s a real mix but you have to understand their reasons if you are to address concerns and prevent outbreaks of preventable disease.’

How is the decision to vaccinate political?

‘Vaccines are regulated, recommended and sometimes mandated by government or public authorities. In the US, researchers have looked at values-based vaccine rejection. Two major values can be seen: purity and liberty. For some, the idea of government influence over health is unacceptable.’

People need more support to maintain confidence in vaccines, says Dr Heidi Larson. Image credit - Jon Spaull

People need more support to maintain confidence in vaccines, says Dr Heidi Larson. Image credit – Jon Spaull

Do all countries and cultures share the same concerns about vaccines?

‘Ten years ago, the answer was no. We saw distinctions between the UK, where a (now withdrawn) 1998 research paper incorrectly linked the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism, and France, whose main vaccine concern was suspected – albeit unproven – links between Hepatitis B vaccines and multiple sclerosis. The UK public was generally not worried about Hepatitis B and the French public was unconcerned about MMR. Now, because information is shared rapidly online and online translation tools are freely available, rumours and myths spread more quickly.’

Does the public expect medicines and vaccines to carry zero risks?

‘Vaccines are different from medicines – they are preventative and given to healthy people. If you are sick, your attitude to intervention and risk is much different. In addition, vaccines are often recommended for people who are most vulnerable – children and pregnant women. Vaccination is, by its nature, somewhat invasive as most vaccines are given by injection, and this provokes an emotional reaction such as fear and anxiety. Indeed, one of the unhelpful trends we notice is that images of needles are commonly used in media coverage about vaccines – you rarely even see a person in the picture.’

Can information fix ‘fake news’?

‘We will always need public communication, but that alone will not fix things. I’m not a great believer in hitting rumours on the head by myth-busting or debunking falsehoods. We need to be more sophisticated and to build strong transnational networks to pick up rumours and misinformation early and surround them with accurate and positive information in support of vaccination.’

Through your Vaccine Confidence Index, you have surveyed opinion on vaccines in 67 countries. What did you find?

‘We came up with a systematic approach to measuring vaccine hesitancy through repeated global surveys. One of the reasons the issue of vaccine reluctance and refusal has not been addressed in any comprehensive way is that it was seen as complex and too fuzzy to measure. It was written off as “not fact” and perceived to be propagated by those who are ignorant, rather than recognising that, fact-or-not fact, these perceptions impact on vaccine uptake and risk disease outbreaks. Our 2016 study in 67 countries found that Europe was the most sceptical region in the world – France was the least positive about vaccines. Now we are planning to rerun the survey in Europe to see if recent devastating measles outbreaks – which have killed 50 people in Europe (since the beginning of 2016) – may have changed minds.’

There were 1,346 cases of measles in Europe in 2008 and 19,570 cases in 2017. Image credit - Horizon

There were 1,346 cases of measles in Europe in 2008 and 19,570 cases in 2017. Image credit – Horizon

How can this information be used to reduce preventable deaths?

‘First you need to understand what’s driving a decline in vaccination rates and only then can you come up with an appropriate response. The needed intervention will vary depending on whether the problem is vaccine supply or access to vaccines, inadequate awareness of disease risk, concern over vaccine safety risks, including ingredients, or general distrust in authority.’

How can people be persuaded that vaccines are safe and what role can research play?

‘Two of our biggest projects are EU-funded initiatives aimed at understanding drivers of vaccine confidence and developing interventions to build trust. One – EBODAC – focuses on trust building and community engagement around recruiting participants into Ebola vaccine trials in Africa, including investigating the evolution and impacts of negative rumours, such as those that led to the suspension of two Ebola vaccine trials in Ghana.

‘Another is the ADVANCE consortium where we are developing a consistent and coordinated approach to assessing vaccine benefits and risks, including more open and coordinated access to relevant data. For example, if a concern is raised about a particular vaccine, we need to be able to determine whether the rates of a reported adverse event are any different among those who are not vaccinated.’

What is the future of this field?

‘We need to do a better job in schools, helping children to understand essential concepts about how immune systems work to fight disease and how vaccines help build our body’s own protection against infection. Medical school curricula also need to focus more on vaccination, including how to engage with patients who have questions about vaccines.  Health authorities need more capacity to respond to vaccine confidence issues, not just by debunking myths, or just providing facts, but by understanding what is driving the concerns, where they are coming from and surrounding them with positive, informed people. The majority of people still believe in vaccines, but they need more support to sustain their confidence.’

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How Flu Strains are Selected for the Seasonal Flu Vaccine Each Year

March 14, 2018 5 comments
SereseMarotta_FamiliesFightingFlu-300x300by Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu 

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older, with rare exception, get an annual flu vaccine. But did you ever wonder how the flu strains are selected for the seasonal vaccine every year?

A lot more goes into the decision than you might think!

Seasonal flu vaccines contain three (trivalent) or four (quadrivalent) flu strains. Because flu is a complex, dynamic virus that is constantly changing, there are more than 100 monitoring centers in over 100 countries located across the globe that monitor flu activity on a year-round basis to identify which flu strains are circulating.

These centers receive and test thousands of influenza virus samples from patients. They then send representative virus samples to five World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research on Influenza, located in Atlanta, GA (i.e., the CDC); London, United Kingdom; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; and Beijing, China. The surveillance data gathered from these samples, along with other information, are used to make a recommendation on which flu strains should be included in the upcoming year’s seasonal flu vaccine.

Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine is not just based on last year’s flu viruses. Three general sources of information are considered in the selection of flu strains for the seasonal flu vaccine:

 

  • Surveillance data represents information gathered from the influenza monitoring centers that collect virus samples from patients. Experts use this information to determine which flu strains are circulating and where.
  • Laboratory data refers to antigenic characterization of the flu viruses in a laboratory, which simply means the identification of specific molecular structures on the influenza virus that are recognized by our immune systems and elicit an immune response. The antigen is the “invader” (i.e., in this case, the flu virus) that causes our immune systems to launch an attack through the formation of specific antibodies. Antibodies are what our bodies produce following flu vaccination so that it’s properly “armed and ready” to recognize and fight that specific flu virus if and when we’re exposed.
  • Genetic characterization of flu viruses may also be considered in the selection of vaccine strains. This refers to “mapping” of the genetic codes that make up each flu strain, which allows the experts to monitor changes in circulating flu viruses.
  • Data from clinical studies on vaccine effectiveness are also considered.

With this robust amount of data in hand,  the WHO then meets twice per year to make a recommendation for flu vaccine strains for the upcoming season: once in February to recommend flu strains for the Northern Hemisphere seasonal flu vaccine, and again in September to recommend flu strains for the Southern Hemisphere seasonal flu vaccine. But it doesn’t stop there! Each country then considers the WHO recommendation, reviews the available information, and makes their own decision on which flu strains to include in their country’s seasonal flu vaccine.

In the U.S., once the WHO makes their recommendation for flu strains for the upcoming year’s seasonal flu vaccine, an advisory committee from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meets in February or March to review the WHO’s recommendation and supporting information and vote on the final selection of flu strains. The role of the FDA is an important one, because once the flu strains are selected, the FDA produces materials in their laboratories that are critical for actually producing the flu vaccines. For instance, the FDA provides vaccine manufacturers with the seed viruses and the potency reagents needed to ensure that flu vaccines made by one manufacturer are similar to those made by another. The FDA also conducts quality control measures by ensuring that batches (referred to as “lots”) of flu vaccines released by the manufacturers meet appropriate standards and reflect the correct genetic composition.

Following the selection of flu strains for the seasonal vaccine and receipt of the appropriate materials and information from the FDA, private sector manufacturers begin the process of making the vaccines. All flu vaccines in the U.S. contain the same flu strains, i.e., the flu vaccine available in New York contains the same three or four flu strains as the vaccine that’s available in California. And it’s important to remember that all flu strains (influenza A or B) can be potentially dangerous, regardless of an individual’s health status, and are capable of causing serious illness, hospitalization, or even death.

Influenza is a vaccine-preventable disease that has the ability to affect all of us around the world, which is why it remains such a pressing global public health issue. Seasonal flu vaccines may not be perfect, but given the complexity of flu viruses and their ability to change and mutate frequently, the U.S. does have a solid, scientifically-based approach for flu vaccine development. While much research and development is being done for a universal flu vaccine, the possibility of this technological advancement is still many years off.  In the meantime, let’s not forget all the hard work and research that goes into helping to protect us with the currently available seasonal flu vaccines. And if you’re wondering “why bother” with a flu vaccine that may be substantially less than 100% effective, let’s remember that something is better than nothing, especially when it comes to your life or the life of a loved one.

More in-depth information on how flu strains are selected for the seasonal flu vaccine every year are available from the CDC and FDA


FFF logo_R copyAbout Families Fighting Flu:  Families Fighting Flu (FFF) is a national, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) volunteer-based advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the lives of children and families by helping to increase annual influenza vaccination rates, especially among children 6 months and older and their families.  Our members include families whose children have suffered serious medical complications or died from influenza, as well as healthcare practitioners and advocates committed to flu prevention.  In honor of our children, we work to increase awareness about the seriousness of influenza and to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths caused by the flu each year.

Updates from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices February Meeting

March 6, 2018 2 comments
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Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) held its first meeting of 2018 on February 21st and 22nd.  The Committee consists of a panel of immunization experts that advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Part of their charter is to continually evaluate new data and update or change vaccine recommendations as warranted. 

The agenda for the February 2018 meeting included presentations pertaining to several different diseases and vaccines, to include hepatitis, influenza, anthrax, HPV, pneumococcal, meningococcal and Japanese encephalitis.

A overview of the meeting is provided below, with details on presentations in the order they occurred: 

Hepatitis B

The committee voted unanimously to approve a non-preferential recommendation for a new Hepatitis B vaccine (Dynavax’s HEPISLAV-B™) to their list of recommended vaccines for adults 18 years and older against infections caused by all known subtypes of Hepatitis B.

This vote came following the presentation of data showing that the new two-dose vaccine generates a more rapid and higher antibody response than the standard 3 dose vaccine.

Hepatitis B is a viral disease of the liver that can become chronic and lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. The hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, and transmission is on the rise. In 2015, new cases of acute hepatitis B increased by more than 20 percent nationally and 850,000-2.2 million persons are estimated to be living with infection in the U.S.

Since there is no here is no cure for hepatitis B, vaccination is our best chance at preventing the disease. While about 90% of people are infected during infancy, in adults, hepatitis B is most often spread through contact with infected blood and through unprotected sex with an infected person. Some individuals who are especially susceptible include those who are immunosuppressed or living with diabetes. The CDC recommends vaccination for those at high risk for infection due to their jobs, lifestyle, living situations and travel to certain areas.

The Working Group summary suggested that this new vaccine option is likely to improve vaccine series completion and result in earlier protection, which is especially beneficial in persons with anticipated low adherence such as injection drug users.  Additionally, the improved immunogenicity in populations with typically poor vaccine response such as the elderly, diabetics and those on dialysis, is promising.  The ACIP will continue to review post-marketing surveillance studies and additional data to ensure safety and cost-effectiveness considerations.

Hepatitis A

The committee voted unanimously to pass three recommendations pertaining to Hepatitis A.

  • Hepatitis A vaccines should be administered for post-exposure prophylaxis for all persons 12 months of age or older.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin (IG) may be administered to persons 40 years of age or older, depending on the providers’ risk assessment.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine should be administered to infants age 6-11 months of age traveling outside the US when protection against hepatitis A is recommended. This recommendation takes into consideration the fact that infants under 12 months who will be traveling internationally will typically also need an MMR vaccine.  Since Hepatitis A immune globulin and MMR vaccine should not be administered simultaneously, these children should receive a single dose of HepA vaccine. It’s important to note that infants should then complete the full, 2 doses of MMR and HepA vaccines at 12 months of age as recommended.

Influenza

The Committee heard five presentations specific to influenza.

The first two were reports of current season data; one detailing flu surveillance, the other providing early influenza vaccine effectiveness data.

According to the update, the majority of circulating flu strains are similar to those contained in the 2017-2018 vaccine.  The only virus clearly showing antigenic drift was the B/Victoria lineage viruses which represents less than 1% of circulating viruses.  So far this season, influenza A (H3N2) has been dominant, with influenza B activity starting to increase more recently. Activity has been the highest we’ve seen since 2009, and while final severity can’t be determined until the end of the season, hospitalization rates and mortality could be similar to or exceed those send during the severe 2014-2015 season.

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Based on data from 4,562 children and adults with acute respiratory illness enrolled during November 2, 2017–February 3, 2018, at five study sites, the overall estimated effectiveness of the 2017–18 seasonal influenza vaccine for preventing medically attended, laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection was 36%. The percentage differs by age group and by virus.  A detailed report can be found here.

The most notable news out of the Committee last week was the vote to restore the live attenuated influenza virus (LAIV) vaccine as an option for the 2018-19 season. LAIV is commonly known as the nasal spray flu vaccine or by its brand name, FluMist This renewed ACIP recommendation offers FluMist as one of several vaccine options for non-pregnant people who are 2-49 years of age during the 2018-2019 season, but does not indicate any preference for FluMist over injectable flu vaccines.

While FluMist has not been recommended for the past two flu seasons due to reduced effectiveness against the H1N1 flu strain in children, the Committee heard three presentations specific to LAIV vaccine efficacy in children prior to taking a vote on future recommendations for LAIV.  The first reported on the efficacy of Fluarix Quadrivalent in children 6-35 month of age. Another presented the results of a randomized trial of a new H1N1 LAIV strain in U.S. children. The third was a review LAIV in children 2-17 years of age.  

The possible root cause of the poor effectiveness of LAIV against H1N1 was discussed and poor replication of the H1N1 selected strain was thought to be the likely problem. A new strain selection process is now in place in cooperation with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and it suggested that the antibody responses of the latest reformulated version of the quadrivalent vaccine, which includes the new 2017-18 post-pandemic 2009 H1N1 LAIV strain (A/Slovenia), will perform significantly better than what was previously observed when the vaccine included the 2015-16 post-pandemic LAIV strain (A/Bolivia).  Immunogenicity and viral shedding data in small trials supported this notion, but no efficacy data is available at this time.

The Committee was therefore forced to a vote using only the science available to date. There was a lively discussion among members who expressed various concerns. While flu vaccine effectiveness is a serious issue, some committee members expressed concern that they may be holding FluMist to a higher standard than other influenza vaccines, yet all have efficacy challenges from year to year.  Other members were concerned with how the vaccine may perform in an H1N1 dominated season. Until the vaccine is used, further effectiveness assessments are performed, and a prominent H1N1 year occurs, a certain level of uncertainty will remain.

While members voted overwhelmingly (12-2) to reinstate LAIV on the immunization schedule, a second vote to give other flu vaccines a preferential recommendation over LAIV failed (11-3).  So, while the ACIP will not indicate a preference for any one type of flu vaccine over another, the public will ultimately determine whether there will be high uptake of this particular vaccine next season. Read more…

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…

Free Online Course Explains Cells, Immunity and Vaccines

January 4, 2018 1 comment
by Rich Greenaway, Director of Program Operations and Special Projects, Every Child By Two

Often times, the concerns people have about vaccines can be addressed through a better understanding of science.  It begins with a more comprehensive explanation of how the cells in our body work, how viruses can infect us, how our bodies fight off infections, and how vaccines help in that process.

DrJMG passport 2

Fortunately, you don’t have to devote your life to being a doctor or scientist to benefit from an improved understanding of immunology.  While many people strive to better educate themselves on these topics, the challenge is in finding educational resources that are not only accessible to the general public, but are also scientifically accurate and comprehensible for non-scientists.

Now Dr. Jonathan M. Gershoni, a Professor of Molecular Immunology and Virology at Tel Aviv University, has stepped in to help.  

After spending thirty years investigating the immune response towards viruses such as HIV, HCV and SARS CoV, Dr. Gershoni is now offering a free course entitled, Viruses & How to Beat Them: Cells, Immunity, Vaccines.

 

Designed for the general public, the course is offered at no charge, but can also be taken for continuing education credits for a small fee ($49).  The online lectures are offered in English in a video format that is easy to understand. Additional learning materials and a glossary of terms are also available for each section.

The entire course consists of seven lessons which are then subdivided into six to ten sub-lessons, each concluding with a quiz.  Although the course became available in December, new participants can view any of the lectures at their own pace.  Lesson 7 may be of particular interest since it deals specifically with vaccines and how they work.  While the time one invests in this course may vary, it is expected that the course can be completed by committing two to three hours per week over an eight-week period.

At a time when immunization misinformation remains prevalent on the internet, and continues to interfere with the public’s ability to recognize the value of vaccines as a primary means of disease prevention, this class and others from reputable individuals and organizations, can further our mission to ensure that everyone is making well-informed decisions regarding vaccines.

Consider the comments Dr. Jonathan M. Gershoni has received from various experts on what they think about vaccines:

We encourage you to register for the course, share your thoughts about the course if you are taking it, and encourage others to further educate themselves about immunology and virology by signing up today.  Simply click here to get started.

Most Popular Posts of 2017 Address Flu, Vaccine Safety, Disease Outbreaks and Maternal Vaccines

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment

As we look back at the success of the Shot of Prevention blog this past year, we’re especially grateful to our blog readers, contributors and subscribers.

Whether you’ve shared a post, shared your story, or shared your expertise, we recognize that our growth and success would not have been possible without your support. Thanks to you, our posts are helping people to make important immunization decisions for themselves and their families.

In these final days of 2017, we hope that you will revisit the top ten posts from the past year and share them with others in your social networks.  

1)  3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Son To Flu

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It’s been eight years since Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu lost her five-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu. She’s not the same person she was eight years ago. Today, she sees things through a different lens as a bereaved parent. Losing a child is devastating, but she feels a responsibility to pass on some of the lessons she’s learned through her personal tragedy, which she does in her article here.

 

2)  10 Things Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids Should Know

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In some cases, children who have suffered with a preventable disease were unvaccinated.  This could be the result of parents who did not have access to certain vaccines, parents who willfully refused a particular vaccine, or it could because they were too young to be fully vaccinated. After Riley Hughes passed away in the arms of his parents when he was just 32 days old, his parents made it their mission to educate people about the dangers of whooping cough, and promote the need for vaccination. In a plea to parents who still choose not to vaccinate, Riley’s mom posted the following list of “things to know” here.

 

3)  Even With All Our Modern Medicine I Watched My Sister Die From Flu

lizaLiza was healthy and only 49 years old when she contracted flu. 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 that her death was a surprise to her brother is an understatement.  And yet her brother, Dr. Michael Northrop is a pediatric intensive care physician. His story traces the clinical course of Liza’s illness, and expresses the grief he felt as he helplessly watched his sister  succumbs to an illness that even modern medicine can’t always save us from. To read his story, click here.

 

4) Take It From This Mom, The Flu Is No Joke

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After her four-year old daughter is rushed to the emergency room, she writes a warning to others.  “The words just the flu need to be eradicated from our lexicon. Because this? This is the flu. There’s no ‘just’ about this. It was terrifying. It was the most helpless I’ve ever felt as a mommy. And it was potentially deadly.  All because I was too busy to get our flu shots.” Read the full story here.

 

5) Flu Vaccine Benefits Go Beyond Effectiveness of One Strain

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Amid speculation about how effective the flu vaccine will be this year, Dr. LJ Tan addresses some of the public’s most prominent concerns. He starts with a basic explanation of flu and flu vaccines, discusses the factors that play into vaccine effectiveness, and addresses rumors about this year’s flu vaccines. To gain a better understanding, read more here.

 

6) How My Sister Helped Save My Daughter From Whooping Cough

As a Medical Director responsible for Community Health and Prevention at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tamara Sheffield is a huge advocate for SOTI_Pertussis_FBimmunizations. She is especially appreciative of maternal immunizations, which she considers one of today’s most promising new preventive health strategies. But her reasons go beyond her professional understanding of how maternal flu and Tdap vaccines pass on protective antibodies to newborns. Her surprising story ends with a twist involving her own daughter who nearly died from whooping cough when she was just three weeks old. Read it here.

 

7) Multiple Vaccine Oversight Committees Ensure Our Public Safety

While 2017 brought a lot of uncertainty about health services in this country, Dr. Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, explains 178_NFID_Vaccine_Safety_infograms_2_FINALwhy the public should remain confident in vaccine safety. In this post she reviews the specific ways in which vaccine safety is regulated in the U.S., and the oversight committees that monitor vaccines pre and post licensure. Her scrutiny explains that it would be hard to hide a problem if one existed, and that when problems do occur, they are quickly discovered and addressed. To learn more about vaccine safety oversight, read the full post here.

 

8) Why Should Vaccinated Individuals Worry About Measles Outbreaks

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With various measles outbreaks reported across the U.S. and the world in 2017, it’s important to understand why vaccinated individuals should be concerned. Many people mistakenly think that vaccinated individuals are not at risk during outbreaks. However, when it comes to infectious diseases like measles, one person’s decision not to vaccinate can negatively impact the health of others and this post explains how.

 

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

HowHerdImmunityWorksWe’ve all received plenty of unsolicited advice about how to care for our children. However, when making health decision for our families we should rely on evidence based research and credible information from reputable sources. In this post, I share five of the most important things I’ve learned about vaccines through my journey as a parent and immunization blogger. Spoiler alert: it begins with science and it ends with action.

 

10) Five Things Expectant Parents Need to Know About Vaccines in Pregnancy

SOTI-PregnancyCoverFBWhile well-meaning friends and family will provide a constant stream of advice on what to do and what to avoid while pregnant, all this information can be overwhelming. 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. This blog post reviews the 5 things these trusted organizations say about the flu and Tdap vaccines routinely recommended during pregnancy. Learn more here.

 

We hope you have found our content to be engaging and informative.  We have exciting changes planned for Shot of Prevention in 2018 in hopes of engaging even more people in these important immunization conversations in the years to come.  

If you have suggestions for topics you would like us to address in 2018, or you would like to contribute a guest post for publication, please email shotofprevention@gmail.com.

Also, if you want to receive important immunization news and join in our online discussions, be sure to “Like” our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page, follow our @ShotofPrev Twitter feed and subscribe to Shot of Prevention by clicking the link on the top right of this page.

Thanks again for your continued support and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Flu Vaccine Benefits Go Beyond Effectiveness of One Strain

December 11, 2017 3 comments
LJ TanGuest post by Litjen (LJ) Tan, MS, PhD; co-chair and co-founder of the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit.

 

There seems to be a lot of speculation recently about how effective the influenza (flu) vaccine will be at preventing cases of influenza this season.

We have heard suggestions that the vaccine may only be 10% effective against flu this year, that there may be mismatches in the vaccine compared to the influenza strains that are circulating, and thus, that the vaccine is not worth getting.

To address these concerns I will start with a basic explanation of flu and flu vaccines, and then discuss the factors that play into vaccine effectiveness.

First, let me say that influenza is a serious respiratory infection that is responsible for about 30% of all the respiratory infections during the winter season. When I say serious, I mean that flu can keep you down for a week or more, and you will feel completely miserable. Additionally, each year thousands of people of all ages die from flu in the U.S.; it can be very dangerous. So, that office colleague who said that he was out with the flu yesterday very likely did not have influenza. Not fully understanding the dangers of flu is why some people fail to see the value of flu prevention.  

Flu is caused by multiple strains of influenza viruses that circulate during the winter season; specifically, we have influenza type A (with the H3N2 and H1N1 strains) and influenza type B (there are two type B strains that can circulate and currently 90% appear to be the Yamagata lineage, but since it is still so early in the season and sample sizes are small, this data point may not be statistically significant). Because these strains of flu viruses can switch every season in terms of dominance, and can also mutate, manufacturers need to develop a new influenza vaccine every year and people need to be re-vaccinated each year.

To be clear, the vaccine development process is the same every year, it is just that the starting, or “seed”, vaccine virus that we immunize against has to be identified before it can be used to develop our country’s annual vaccines.

When that seed virus is identified, it is then amplified (or passaged) to develop more seed virus. Then that seed virus is further amplified to create the large quantities of vaccine virus that we ultimately need to prepare an adequate supply of vaccines to protect our population. That amplification of the seed virus, and the making of large amounts of vaccine virus, can occur in eggs, which is the more traditional way, or it can also occur in cell cultures. So there needs to be four seed viruses developed and amplified to create influenza vaccines – an H3N2 seed, an H1N1 seed, and the two B seed viruses.

So why do we keep hearing people say that this year’s flu vaccine may only be 10% effective? Where did that suggestion come from?

When we say that a flu vaccine is 10% effective, what we usually mean is that it was effective in preventing 10% of cases of influenza in those who were vaccinated. This 10% number that you may have heard is actually a data point from Australia, and it’s not against all strains of flu, but specifically against the H3N2 strain that dominated the southern hemisphere this past flu season. If you look at the Australian data for all influenza, the vaccine effectiveness goes up to 33%. Agreed, that’s not great for Australians (although, it’s still better than no protection), but is looking at the Australian data truly reflective of what might happen in the US?

It’s unlikely, and here’s why. Read more…