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How Do We Know Vaccines are Safe?

August 15, 2018 8 comments

Vaccinate Your Family_MomGrandmaLittleGirlToo often, we hear misinformation about vaccines and their safety. Some people claim that they are not tested for safety before being licensed and recommended for use in people in the United States. Others say that vaccines are not held to the same safety standards as drugs, when in fact they are held to a higher standard. And some others wrongly proclaim that vaccines are not monitored for safety after they are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended for the public by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as they are unaware of the strong vaccine surveillance systems we have in place in the U.S.

The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history.

Below, we offer an overview of how vaccines are tested and monitored for safety and effectiveness:

Clinical trials

Vaccines are one of the most thoroughly tested medical products available in the U.S. Before a vaccine can be considered for approval by the FDA, a vaccine manufacturer must show it is safe and effective through clinical trials. Developing a new vaccine begins with exploratory stage and pre-clinical stage before advancing to three stages of clinical trials. Together, this scientific process can take over a decade and cost millions of dollars. The FDA then examines these studies and determines whether a vaccine is safe, effective, and ready to be licensed for use. The FDA only licenses vaccines that have data that shows that the vaccines’ benefits outweigh the potential risks. If there is any question about the data, or any holes in the data, the FDA will request further studies before approving the vaccine.

Four monitoring systems 

After a vaccine is licensed for use in the U.S., there are four systems in place that work together to help scientists monitor the safety of vaccines and identify any rare side effects that may not have been found in clinical trials. Even large clinical trials may not be big enough to find very rare side effects. For example, some side effects may only happen in 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 500,000 people. Second, vaccine trials may not include certain populations like pregnant women or people with specific medical conditions who might have different types of side effects or who might have a higher risk of side effects than the volunteers who got the vaccine during clinical trials.

Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS)

VAERS is a passive reporting system. That means it relies on individuals to report vaccine reactions. Anyone can report a reaction or injury, including healthcare providers, patients and patients’ representatives, such as caregivers or attorneys. The system is co-managed by the FDA and the CDC. However, it is important to note that VAERS data alone can’t be used to answer the question, “Does a certain vaccine cause a certain side effect?” This is because adverse events reported to VAERS may or may not be caused by vaccines. There are reports in VAERS of common conditions that occur just by chance after vaccination. Further investigation may find no medical link between vaccination and these conditions. Instead, the purpose of VAERS is to see if unexpected or unusual patterns emerge, which may indicate a vaccine safety issue that needs to be researched further.

The Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD)

Established in 1990, VSD is a collaboration between the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office and eight health care organizations across the country. It conducts studies based on questions or concerns raised from the medical literature and reports to VAERS. In addition, when new vaccines are recommended or if changes are made in how a vaccine is recommended, VSD will monitor the safety of these vaccines.

The Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project (CISA)

CISA, which was created in 2001, is a national network of vaccine safety experts from the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, seven medical research centers and other partners. CISA addresses vaccine safety issues, conducts high quality clinical research and assesses complex clinical adverse events following vaccination. CISA also helps to connect clinicians with experts who can help consult on vaccine safety questions related to individual patients.

The Post-Licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring System (PRISM)

PRISM is a partnership between the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and leading health insurance companies. It actively monitors and analyzes data from a representative subset of the general population. PRISM links data from health plans with data from state and city immunization information systems (IIS). PRISM has access to information for over 190 million people allowing it to identify and analyze rare health outcomes that would otherwise be difficult to assess.

These four post-licensure monitoring systems have been able to address several important issues related to vaccines and their safety, including:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its agencies, health insurance companies, scientists, healthcare providers, and other public health and medical groups are all dedicated to ensuring people of all ages are protected against serious infectious diseases by a safe, effective supply of vaccines.

The Summer Beach Read You’ve Been Missing: Dr. Offit’s latest book, “Bad Advice”

By: Erica DeWald, Director, Advocacy Every Child By Two

Looking for your final summer beach read but tired of the same old thrillers, political exposés and romance novels?  Look no further than the latest offering from Dr. Paul Offit, Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren’t Your Best Source of Health Information.

 

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photo by Nicholas Pisani

You may be asking yourself, “Nonfiction? About health advice? I just want something fun and entertaining.” Think of Dr. Offit as that one teacher who always made learning fun. In fact, he’s been described by some as the Neil deGrasse Tyson of medicine. Offit’s quick wit will keep you laughing as he also manages to break down complex scientific and medical concepts.

Throughout the book, Dr. Offit takes us on his personal journey as he transitioned from a guy in a lab, trying to create a vaccine that could eventually save over 200,000 lives a year, to one of the world’s most renown speakers on vaccines. He has done so while facing some of the toughest interviewers and government panels. His secret to success? Trial and error. Not every speech he’s given has been a rousing success, nor has he always managed to convince his audience that the science is right. He has gathered these anecdotes into a series of lessons so others can learn from his mistakes.

His topic is particularly timely given the current conversation around what constitutes “fake news” and who we should view as experts. Social media has given celebrities outsized platforms beyond the usual movie or album release. While many of these individuals are well-meaning, they often base their opinions on the same unsubstantiated information you or I read online.

Which brings us to the topic of activists. In today’s interconnected world, it’s much easier to find individuals who are passionate about the same causes as you, whether it’s vaccines, GMOs, or plastic straws. Individual activists can quickly become seen as leaders, but does that make them experts? Too often their expertise is based on research they’ve conducted online or they are even influenced by monetary interests. Dr. Offit reminds us to always consider what an activist’s motivations may be, and whether they truly rank among the experts in their fields.

In all, Bad Advice is a quick read that will give you some faith that, ultimately, science and facts will win the day if we just communicate it in the right way. And it’ll give you hope that you can ultimately recover from that really awkward comment you just made.

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Bad Advice is currently for sale on Amazon.com and at all major book retailers, along with other fascinating books by Dr. Offit.

If you buy the book at Amazon Smile, please consider selecting Every Child By Two as your charity of choice.  This will ensure that 0.5% of the purchase price of all your purchases will be given to support our ongoing efforts to educate the public about the life-saving value of vaccines.

 

 

Supercharge Your Kid’s Cancer Fighting Power

July 18, 2018 2 comments

By: Jennifer Zavolinsky, Director, Outreach Initiatives, ECBT

Kids having fun with mumIt’s hard to believe how quickly the summer is rushing by. The July 4th holiday is in the rearview mirror and stores are already putting their summer clothes on clearance. So now is a good time to start thinking about what you need to do to prepare your kids to go back to school.

Are You the Parent of an 11- or 12-Year-Old? 6-reasons-listicle-05

Make sure your preteen gets the three vaccines that protect against whooping cough (Tdap), meningococcal disease (MenACWY) and HPV cancers (HPV).

We can reduce the risk of our children getting certain cancers later in life by helping them make healthy choices now, including eating a healthy diet, staying away from tobacco, wearing sunscreen and being physically active. We can also help prevent most HPV cancers with just two shots of the HPV vaccine.

HPV vaccination helps prevent six types of cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) in both men and women including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penis and throat cancers. Every year in the United States, HPV causes approximately 32,000 cancers in men and women, and HPV vaccination can prevent most of the cancers from ever developing.

HPV is a Common Virus that Infects Teens and AdultsHPV is a common virus

HPV is so common that most people will get the virus at some point in their lives. About 14 million people in the U.S., including teens, become infected with HPV each year. HPV is passed during intimate sexual contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person who has the virus. And the virus can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Most HPV infections go away on their own without lasting health problems. However, there is no way to know which infections will turn into cancer. That is why it is important that all children get vaccinated against HPV.

Vaccines are for Prevention, Not Treatment

Since vaccines are for prevention, not treatment, they only work if given BEFORE coming in contact with a virus. That’s why you want to get your child vaccinated against HPV at 11 or 12 years old. In addition, scientific studies have shown that children have the best immune response to the vaccine at these ages. The HPV vaccine is given as a series of two shots, and the series should be completed by age 13.

HPV Vaccines Are Continuously Monitored for Safety

Like all vaccines recommended in the U.S., HPV vaccines are monitored on an ongoing basis to make sure they remain safe and effective. With approximately 100 million doses of HPV vaccine distributed so far in the U.S., data continues to show that HPV vaccines are safe, effective and give long-lasting protection.

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Make sure to ask your preteen’s health care provider about the HPV vaccine at his/her next appointment.

Commonly-Asked Questions

Are HPV vaccines safe?

Yes, numerous research studies have been conducted to make sure HPV vaccines are safe, both before and after the vaccines were licensed. Before the three HPV vaccines were licensed for use in the U.S. by the FDA, each went through years of testing in thousands of people through clinical trials. After being licensed, the CDC and FDA have continued to monitor the safety of the HPV vaccines through the three surveillance systems in the U.S. Over 100 million doses of HPV vaccines have been distributed in the U.S. so far and HPV vaccines continue to have a good safety record.

Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can cause side effects, but the most common side effects are mild. They include pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given; dizziness; fainting; nausea; and headache. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risk of side effects.

Does the HPV vaccine contain dangerous ingredients?

No, the HPV vaccine does NOT contain harmful ingredients. While HPV vaccines, like some other vaccines, do contain a small amount of aluminum in order to boost the body’s immune response to the vaccine, it’s important to realize that people are actually exposed to aluminum every day. Aluminum is commonly found in numerous food and beverages, water, infant formula and even breast milk. Aluminum-containing vaccines have been used for decades and have been given to more than 1 billion people without problems. The quantities of aluminum present in vaccines are low and are regulated by the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). Learn more about the use of aluminum and other ingredients in vaccines.

If I vaccinate my preteen now, won’t the vaccine wear off by the time he/she goes to college?

No, if you vaccinate your child at age 11 or 12, he or she should continue to be protected against HPV through college. Studies continue to monitor how long the vaccine protects against HPV infections, and protection has been shown to last at least 10 years with no signs of the protection weakening.

If I give my preteen the HPV vaccine, won’t it be like giving them permission to start having sex?

No, there have actually been scientific studies that have looked at this issue, and they show that there is no correlation between receiving the HPV vaccine and increased rates of, or earlier engagement in, sexual activity.

My child is not sexually active. Why should I vaccinate him/her against HPV now?

Preteens should receive all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine series long before they begin any type of sexual activity. Even if your child delays sexual activity until marriage, or only has one partner in the future, he or she could still be exposed to HPV if his/her partner has been exposed to HPV. Studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is most e­ffective in preventing the virus, and therefore HPV cancers, when given at age 11 or 12.

Can HPV vaccination cause infertility?

No, there is no evidence that HPV vaccination causes fertility or reproductive problems. In fact, getting HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, can help ensure a woman’s ability to get pregnant and have healthy babies. For example, a woman who develops cervical cancer later in life due to HPV infection may require serious treatments that could leave her unable to have children. It’s also possible that treatment for cervical pre-cancer could put a woman at risk for problems with her cervix, which could cause preterm delivery or other problems. HPV vaccination can help prevent these complications.

Learn more about HPV vaccination at vaccinateyourfamily.org

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child

April 23, 2018 3 comments

Every parent wants to do what’s best for their children. However, when parents are bombarded by conflicting messages, it can be a struggle to try to determine what is best.  Every decision – from the type of car seat to purchase, to how to soothe a fussy child – elicits a variety of opinions.  But when it comes to protecting our children from dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases, parents should rely on evidence based information from trusted sources.  

In honor of National Infant Immunization Week 2018, we’ve outlined some of the top reasons experts give for immunizing for your child, along with trusted sources where parents can get more information:

 

1.) The diseases we can prevent through immunization are dangerous and sometimes deadly.  

The 14 different diseases that we can now prevent through vaccination had once injured or killed thousands of children in the U.S. each year. Today, we may hardly ever see these diseases, but the fact remains that these diseases still exist and can be extremely dangerous, especially to children.

Take polio as an example. Polio was once America’s most feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country.  Thanks to vaccination, the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979.  But small pockets of polio still exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the threat to your child may just be a plane ride away.  (Read Judith’s polio story.)

There are lots of other vaccine preventable diseases that we see more frequently here in the U.S., such as flu, measles and pertussis.  So far during the flu season, over 150 children have died from flu.  And in the past few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of measles.  Back in 2014, there was an outbreak involving 667 cases of measles in 27 states. Another large multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California occured in 2015 involved 147 people. And more recently, an outbreak in MN resulted in the hospitalizations of a dozen children.

Learn more about the 14 different diseases we can prevent through vaccination with this interactive eBook which includes a description of each disease, its symptoms and an explanation of how the disease can be prevented through immunization. 

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2.) Vaccines are safe and effective. 

Vaccines today are the safest they’ve ever been. Of course, parents are bound to hear stories from people on the internet claiming that their children were injured by vaccines.  Since it is extremely difficult to validate these stories, parents should rely on evidence based information when making conclusions about the safety of vaccines.

It is important to acknowledge that vaccines do come with a risk of side effects. However, since vaccines are administered to almost every child in the U.S., they undergo an enormous amount of safety surveillance and scrutiny by scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals.  The most common vaccine side effects are minor and include redness or swelling at the site of the shot, which is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and risk of injury and death from the diseases these vaccines prevent. Serious side effects following vaccination, such as severe allergic reaction, can happen, but are extremely rare.

Considering the dangers of the diseases we are trying to prevent, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the minimal risk of side effects.

This video, as well as others available on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page, address some of the most common safety questions parents have about vaccines.  

 

3.) Childhood vaccines contribute to the community immunity that helps keep everyone free from disease.  

Some vaccines are not administered until a child is 2, 6 or 12 months of age.  Some vaccines even require multiple doses before a child receives optimal immunity.  Prior to being fully vaccinated, these infants remain vulnerable to diseases that can be particularly dangerous for infants.   Read more…

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…