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Resolve To Protect Your Family From Cancer

January 9, 2018 1 comment

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By Shaundra L. Hall, Southwest Regional Director, National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC)

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and if you’ve resolved to make healthier choices in 2018, then ensuring your loved ones are vaccinated against the deadly strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) should be on the top of the “resolutions to keep” list.

Cancer prevention is a gift of health for your child’s, and grandchildren’s, future.  But it’s only a gift if given early in life.

My journey with HPV began at the age of 17.

My very first Pap smear exam had an abnormal result. Over the next several years, I would have some normal and some abnormal Paps, and it was eventually determined that my cervical dysplasia required medical treatment to remove abnormal cell tissue that might become cancerous. I went on to have multiple procedures over the years – a LEEP/cold knife cone, cryosurgery – you name it, I had it.  So many painful treatments chipping away precious tissue from my cervix.

ShaundraHall2Years later, after my husband and I were married and bought our first house together, we started thinking about starting a family. When pregnancy didn’t happen as quickly as we had hoped, I made a visit to my gynecologist’s office. Back in to the stirrups I go, and with one look heard “Ohhhh…

My heart sank.

Until we had started trying for a family, I’d had four years of completely normal Pap tests and I felt confident that I was healthy enough to get pregnant.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

During the course of about 10 months, some cancer switch turned on and I went from 4 years of a healthy cervix to invasive cervical cancer.  About fourteen days after my doctor’s appointment, I was in the hospital having a hysterectomy to save my life from a HPV related cancer.  Not only were my husband and I in our 20s trying to deal with the fact we would never have our own biological kids, but now we had the big “C” staring us in the face.  To say it was devastating is an understatement.

I wish I could say that I left all of that sadness from nearly 20 years ago behind me, but the reminders of my battle with HPV related cancer is with me every day. When I see my scar or when my legs, ankles and feet swell due to lymphedema from my missing abdominal lymph nodes, it’s clear that I can’t escape what the cancer has done to me. I think about it when I encourage my husband to keep each and every dental exam to ensure that he is not at risk for HPV related oropharyngeal or head and neck cancer.  My husband has been an amazing partner sticking with me through all of the intimacy challenges related to the physical modifications to my body, and I only wish we had the opportunity to be protected from HPV when we were younger. Read more…

Impact of Latest Congressional Actions on Immunization Programs

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment
By Erica DeWald, Director of Advocacy, Every Child By Two/Vaccinate Your Family

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As we near the end of 2017, we want to extend a big thanks to each of you! Without your support for immunizations, our voice would not be heard in Washington. Only through regular outreach to our lawmakers have we been able to demonstrate the impact federal policies would have on vaccination rates and thus our country’s health.

Unfortunately, our work for the year isn’t over yet. We are still closely monitoring the appropriations process as well as the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for 8.9 million children who are uninsured.

Congress has twice extended the deadline for an FY18 spending bill. The next Continuing Resolution (CR) expires December 22. A new proposal from House Appropriations Chairman Frelinghuysen would extend funding for all non-defense spending through January 19 and reauthorize the CHIP funding for five-years. Unfortunately, the proposal also includes $6.35 billion in cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). As a reminder, PPHF accounts for 53% of the Immunization Program’s funding.

The Immunization Program’s non-PPHF funding also remains in jeopardy. The Senate has proposed level funding from FY17 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Program (which received a 4 million dollar cut last year), while the House has proposed a 50 million dollar cut. That large of a cut would devastate immunization infrastructure. 

Both CHIP and the Immunization Program enjoy bipartisan support but Congress has had difficulty understanding how their funding choices affect our nation’s health. If fewer children are able to access health care through CHIP – either because Congress is delaying reauthorization or because they have instituted new demands that states match funds – then less children will end up receiving life-saving vaccines. Second, if Congress uses Prevention & Public Health Fund (PPHF) dollars to help pay for CHIP as proposed in the House bill, they are in fact cutting essential funds from the very public health clinics and immunization programs that accept CHIP and provide care to children.

Please consider calling your Representative and Senators to urge them to support ALL public health funding. Ask them to reauthorize CHIP without using the PPHF as a budgetary offset. You can find contact information for your legislators at whoismyrepresentative.com.

Every Child By Two/Vaccinate Your Family will continue to watch these legislative issues and do our best to keep you informed.   

Thank you again for your interest and support!

Vaccine Hesitancy Often Tied to Moral Foundations of Liberty and Purity

December 5, 2017 Leave a comment

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We often try to overcome vaccine hesitancy with education, hoping that the scientific evidence will be enough to change people’s minds.  The hope is that if we can just provide people with the facts about the dangers of diseases, and the benefits of vaccines, than they will be encouraged to vaccinate.  But research shows that it’s not that easy, and this may not even be the right approach.

Today, Washington Post reporter, Lena Sun, published an article that explains that vaccine hesitancy is not just an issue of education.  Recent behavioral research suggests that there is often a moral difference between people who accept vaccines and people who refuse them.  The point is that people don’t make decisions based solely on fact.  Rather, parents who are most reluctant to vaccinate appear to be strongly concerned with two powerful moral values that influence their attitudes and judgments: individual liberty and purity.

In this framework, liberty is associated with belief in personal responsibility, freedom, property rights and resistance to state involvement in citizens’ lives, while concerns about purity focus on boundaries and protection from contamination.

One new study out of Emory University, published recently in Nature Human Behaviour, used a social psychology theory known as Moral Foundations Theory to determine the underlying moral values most strongly associated with vaccine-hesitant parents. They assessed the parents’ level of vaccination hesitancy and explored how important different moral values were to them when deciding if something was right or wrong. Their findings correspond with the reasons many vaccine-hesitant parents give for delaying or refusing some vaccines.

Another group of researchers out of Loyola University in Chicago were able to validate these finding, but then went one step further.  They found that purity and liberty values also seem to influence the belief in false or misleading statements that often appear on websites that adamantly oppose vaccines.

In another study recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers at the University of Amsterdam and University of Kent explored science skepticism as it relates to various issues such as climate change, vaccination and genetic modification in food.  They determined that “religiosity”, as well as concerns about moral purity, were also a common predictor of vaccine skepticism.

The insight that we get from this type of behavioral research can certainly help us better understand those who are vaccine hesitant.  If we can take the moral foundation concerns and incorporate them into our messaging, we may be able to persuade parents that vaccines do fulfill their desire to maintain both liberty and purity.

As an example, to address the purity concerns, one suggested intervention may be to explain that vaccinating is a way of  boosting a child’s natural defenses against disease and keeping the child “pure of infections”.  Whereas a liberty-oriented message might suggest that vaccines can help parents to take personal control of a child’s health so that they are free to live a happy and healthy life.

While such messaging has yet to be tested, these studies, and others like this, are critical to helping us develop more effective communication, and should be a consideration for all of us who engage with vaccine hesitant parents in the doctor’s office, on the internet or at the playground.

 

Take it From This Mom, the Flu is No Joke

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment
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This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has organized a Flu Blog-a-thon, calling for immunization supporters to post content about the importance of flu vaccination.  We are honored to share Immunize Nevada’s special contribution, which is a powerful story shared to help educate parents about the dangers of flu.

 


 The Flu is No Joke, by Mikalee Byerman

 

The words “just the flu” need to be eradicated from our lexicon.

Because this? This is the flu.

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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.

My baby, 4 years old and so very tiny, is the real face of the flu.

I rushed her to the emergency room one midnight a few weeks ago because she was suddenly having trouble breathing. She had been home sick from school with a fever all day, and I even took her to her doctor earlier that afternoon fearing it might be the flu. But he didn’t even test her, because, as he assured me, “I haven’t seen any flu yet this year.” What he did see were signs of an ear infection, so he sent us home with antibiotics.

But just eight hours later saw the onset of spasms that rocked her whole body as she struggled for air. I’ll never forget the empty look of lethargy behind her eyes, contrasting against the sheer effort it took to inhale breath. She was so sick, and I knew we couldn’t wait until morning. By the time we got to the ER, she was hypoxic. The definition of hypoxia:

When your body doesn’t have enough oxygen; this is a dangerous condition. Without oxygen, your brain, liver, and other organs can be damaged just minutes after symptoms begin.

It was there we were tested and learned that this was all due to the flu.

All told, I easily could have lost my baby if I had waited a few more minutes to rush her to the ER. And in terms of the far less important (but very real) financial impact, I just received a bill for $11,427 in the mail.

All because I was “too busy” to get our flu shots just yet — because I was sure I still had ample time. I was “too busy” juggling all the stuff of single mommyhood — kids’ crazy schedules, career, marketing my book, setting up speaking engagements, planning a surprise vacation for my family, taking care of all the day-to-day stuff — all things that seem so trivial now, that I completely overlooked something that could have prevented all this pain and suffering. Luckily, there should be no long-term medical issues though, and again, I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

But yeah, because I’m a single mom, this hospital visit will have long-term financial ramifications. And it was likely preventable. If only.

So in the aftermath of this life-changing event, I have new perspective and a few takeaways about the flu:

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1. We need to stop calling everything that is not the flu “the flu.”

As a culture, I feel like we’ve become desensitized to the seriousness of the flu, because we say we have the “stomach flu” when we spend a few days throwing up. But hey, here’s a fun fact: There’s NO SUCH THING AS STOMACH FLU — influenza is a respiratory illness, whereas when people throw up a lot, that’s a gastrointestinal illness. So please, call a stomach bug just that — a stomach bug or stomach virus. It’s not the flu.

2. If you’ve ever had the flu, you KNOW YOU’VE HAD THE FLU.

I hear people sometimes say something like “I think I might have a touch of the flu,” or “I think I had the flu a few days ago, but I’m good now.” Nope. Doesn’t happen. The flu is like death, but with the unfortunate complication of still being alive. I can say this because, of course, since I hadn’t scheduled a flu shot for my kids, I also had skipped my own — which means I too came down with the flu, while in the hospital holding a bedside vigil for my toddler. I spent two days sitting next to my sick daughter, not being able to sleep except on a hard-as-nails fold-out torture device called a “hospital cot,” while suffering from the flu myself. Fever, chills, never-ending achiness all over my body, a throat that felt like fire — It. Was. AWESOME.

And I’ll never forget the pain, the sleeplessness due to the pain or the mere longevity of it (I started Tamiflu right away, which typically shaves a day or two off of symptoms — but I was still sick for eight solid days). There’s no guesswork about the flu — you have it, or you don’t, and if you do, you KNOW.

3. Let’s say you could get a quick and painless vaccine to prevent all this. Spoiler alert: You CAN!

The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it increases your likelihood of not contracting the three or four predicted strains for a given season. And as a mommy who just watched her tiny toddler suffer for days in the hospital and then be quarantined for many more in our home, I can say this: If I could increase her likelihood of NOT getting the flu by pretty much any percentage in exchange for a shot, I would take it. And according to the CDC: “While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 percent and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” Forty to 60 percent? Yeah, I’ll take it.

4. The flu shot does not give you the flu. Just stop saying that.

If you happen to get the flu right after getting the shot, that’s quite the unfortunate coincidence, but keep this in mind: It takes only one to four days for symptoms to appear after you contract the flu, and it takes up to two weeks for the body to build antibodies. So if you get the flu within these windows, chances are you already had the flu and/or your body wasn’t fully protected yet. It is NOT because you got the shot. That’s simply not possible. Some people do experience relatively minor symptoms immediately following the flu shot, but that is; a) not the flu, and b) likely just your body’s immune system reacting to the vaccine as it should, and symptoms subside rather quickly.

MikaleeSo if you’re a busy parent, this blog is for you. Or if you think that a flu shot doesn’t work, or isn’t “worth it,” or that your child will get over it because it’s “just the flu,” I hope you keep this baby in mind. 

Because take it from me: I would have done anything to prevent our 10 days of hell. I’m pretty sure you would do the same for your kids, if given the chance. And you have the chance.

Please, make time for the flu shot. Today.

Mikalee Byerman is the author of this post and the VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group, one of Immunize Nevada’s communication partners. She is also a freelance writer and mom to three kids, all of whom have now received their flu shots — and will every year moving forward, on or before Oct. 1.

 


Other Flu Blog-a-thon participants include the following:

To further support the CDC’s efforts to promote flu vaccination, join in on the #FluStory Twitter Storm, beginning December 6 at 1 pm ET.  To encourage vaccination and emphasize the seriousness of flu, @CDCFlu is asking participants to share their experiences with having the flu using the hashtag #FluStory.  By tweeting about missing major life events to facing a serious illness, we can highlight the impact flu has on our communities and create a storm of support around flu vaccination.

Educating Legislators About Preventative Health and Vaccination

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Every Child By Two will be making a special presentation on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, October 31st, alongside experts from the American Public Health Association, the American Diabetes Association and the National Council on Aging.

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The panel, which will be moderated by the National Coalition on Health Care, will discuss the vital role of Health and Human Services initiatives to drive down health costs and improve health outcomes at each stage of life.

Every Child By Two’s Executive Director, Amy Pisani, will explain the ability of vaccines to save both lives and money – and the impact federal funding cuts will have on our efforts to combat vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S.

Please contact your legislators and suggest they attend this special presentation on Prevention Across the Lifespan.  

It will be held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center from 10-11:30 am on October 31st in room SVC-203.  If you are unable to attend, we encourage you to watch Every Child By Two’s portion of the presentation via Facebook Live on the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

You may also want to review and share our 2017 State of the ImmUnion report with your legislators.

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This report examines 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. The report highlights the successes of vaccines, the economic and societal savings incurred from vaccines, challenges facing the public health system and key areas of focus to achieve optimal protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.  There are even resources within the report that help individuals learn more about the vaccination rates in their state and what can be done to ensure the health of families throughout the nation.  To access the report, click here.

In “The Pathological Optimist” Wakefield Profits From False Hope and a Disproved Autism-MMR Hypothesis

October 23, 2017 33 comments

This guest post has been written by Every Child By Two Board Member, Dr. Paul A. Offit, who is a professor of pediatrics and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The Pathological Optimist, which had its theatrical release on September 29, 2017, is a movie about Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism.

Although much has been written about this man and his discredited hypothesis, one question remains unanswered. And it’s this question that makes Andrew Wakefield such an interesting character study.

Among scientists, Andrew Wakefield is unique.  He’s not unique because his explanation for why MMR caused autism was nonsensical. (MMR vaccine doesn’t overwhelm the immune system; measles vaccine virus doesn’t damage the intestine; and brain-damaging toxins don’t then enter the body and cause autism). And he’s not unique because 17 studies performed in seven countries on three continents showed that those who received MMR weren’t at greater risk of autism. (Four thousand studies are published in the scientific and medical literature every day; not surprisingly, false claims are published all the time). He’s not unique because the Lancet, the medical journal that published his original paper, retracted it when the editor learned that Wakefield had misrepresented biological and clinical data. (Researchers who falsify data are an occasional problem in science—a human endeavor). And he’s not unique because several of the families mentioned in his paper were in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies, essentially laundering their legal claims through a medical journal. (Conflicts of interest occasionally confound medical research). Finally, he’s not unique because his misrepresentations and falsehoods caused him to lose his medical license. (Every year some doctors lose their license to practice medicine).

No. What makes Andrew Wakefield unique is that unlike many of the discredited, defrocked, and humiliated scientists who have preceded him, he continues to insist that he is right and that the rest of the world is wrong.

The question is: Why? In The Pathological Optimist, executive producer Miranda Bailey pulls back the curtain.

Between 2011 and 2016, Bailey, who is best known for her work in Swiss Army Man, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Norman, embedded herself in Andrew Wakefield’s life. Bailey is no novice. She’s spent a lot of time working around people who act for a living. She’s not easily fooled. And she’s not fooled here.

Throughout the movie, Andrew Wakefield’s grandiosity, his exaggerated sense of self-importance, his fantasies of brilliance, his sense of entitlement, his need for constant admiration, and his arrogance are on full display.

The Pathological Optimist follows Wakefield on what appears to be a cross-country, money-seeking tour targeting parents of children with autism. Wakefield isn’t raising money for research on autism’s causes or cures. And he isn’t raising money to promote better services or better educational tools for children with the disorder. Rather, he’s raising money for himself; specifically, to pay legal fees for his lawsuits against Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who had exposed Wakefield’s falsifications in the Lancet paper, and Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal who had called Wakefield’s paper fraudulent and challenged the Lancet to retract it.

Wakefield is out to restore his reputation. And he’s taking advantage of vulnerable parents who believe in him to do it. For Andrew Wakefield, it’s all about Andrew Wakefield.

Read more…

3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Son to Flu

October 18, 2017 7 comments
By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

 

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Today is a hard day for me – it’s been eight years since I lost my five-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu.

I’m not the same person I was eight years ago. Today, I see things through a different lens as a bereaved parent. I am more compassionate, more empathic, and (generally) more understanding and patient. Losing a child is devastating, but I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned through this personal tragedy.

So here’s what I want every parent to know:

1.  Every parent wants what’s best for their children.

I’ve come to realize that vaccination is a sensitive issue for many people. Some parents believe in vaccination, while others do not. But what we all agree on is that our decisions are motivated by our desire to protect our children.

Whether it’s a post on social media, or a televised interview on the news, we often witness a difference of opinions regarding the risks and benefits of vaccines.  However, we all make the choices we do with the information we have because we want to do what we THINK is best for our children. The disconnect occurs when we don’t agree on the validity of the information that’s available to us.

It’s not really the people that are divided, it’s actually the incorrect information on vaccines that we have allowed to divide us.

As parents, we are so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information out there, that sometimes it’s difficult to determine what’s true and what’s false. That’s why when I have conversations with people who are hesitant, or even opposed to vaccines, I find it’s best to listen to their concerns and start a mutually respectful dialogue. Attacking one another won’t help. We need to combat vaccine misinformation by providing the correct information. I don’t want a single parent to risk their child’s life, or their own, simply because they didn’t have the correct information about vaccines.

So here’s what I know for sure; across the globe, millions of children have died due to infectious diseases and continue to do so. Sadly, most of these deaths could be prevented with vaccines.  My son’s death certificate states “complications of H1N1”. I know for a fact that my child died from influenza. I also know, based on the available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that 1,472 children have died from influenza in the United States since 2004. And I know that the flu vaccine has been safely administered in the U.S. for more than 50 years.

How do I know this? Because I made sure I got the facts and I trust the science.

2. Flu vaccines save lives.

We have vaccines for a reason. Vaccines are not created for common, non-life-threatening ailments. The fact that there is even a flu vaccine should be enough to indicate the dangers of flu. Before Joseph died, I never would have thought in a million years that flu was a threat to my healthy child. I have always vaccinated myself and my children, including for flu. Joseph passed away due to H1N1 flu, which was not included in the seasonal vaccine in 2009. The H1N1 vaccine did not become available in our community until two weeks after Joseph passed away. I do believe that if he had been vaccinated for H1N1, Joseph would likely still be here today.

Flu does not discriminate – it does not care if you’re young or old, rich or poor, healthy or immunocompromised. It’s important for people to know that flu can be a serious, even deadly, disease for anyone. Before Joseph died I was more scared of him getting hit by a car or kidnapped by a stranger. Death from flu was not even on my radar. Now I know more about flu than I ever wanted to.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, 20 to 50 million people lost their lives. Every year in the U.S., upwards of 56,000 people lose their lives due to flu, including approximately 100 children. As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. So why wouldn’t we protect them from the flu, too?  The flu can kill even a healthy individual. But those who are vaccinated are much less likely to die from flu.

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3.  Grief is not a linear process.

Read more…