Last week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the World Mercury Project, orchestrated a major publicity stunt designed to question the safety of vaccines. Since he had no real evidence to present, and the same accusations which have been repeatedly refuted for years, he attempted to garner attention by offering journalists a glimpse at a new anti-vaccine celebrity and the promise of a $100,000 challenge.
During an hour-long press event on Wednesday, Kennedy was joined by other vaccine critics such as ‘Vaxxed’ movie producer Del BigTree, San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood, Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam and celebrity actor, filmmaker and father of an autistic child, Robert DeNiro.
While each had their turn to suggest there was a worldwide scientific conspiracy to lie about vaccine safety, Kennedy concluded by announcing that he would give a $100,000 award to any American journalist who could produce a study that proved that the level of thimerosal used in vaccines was deemed to be safe.
(Of course, since he failed to mention the fee required to participate in the challenge, made no reference to a scientific expert(s) who would assist in evaluating the science, and refused to accept the mountains of studies that already exist on the subject, his promise of a payout was seen by many as an elaborate publicity scam.)
On Thursday, Kennedy continued his crusade on Capitol Hill by renting out a Congressional briefing room and attempting to lure legislators with the involvement of celebrity Robert DeNiro. While staunch vaccine refusers were invigorated by these meetings, hanging on the hope that Kennedy could possibly make inroads with the current administration and put an end to vaccine injury once and for all, the reality is that hardly anyone was listening.
With about 40 people in attendance on Wednesday, and not one member of Congress showing up on Thursday, it’s safe to say that Kennedy’s message is only echoing among those who already support him. Even DeNiro appeared to have lost interest since he was notably absent from Thursday’s event on Capitol Hill.
As expected, there have already been dozens of commentary that address Kennedy’s misinformation. However, there is still one statement he made that I feel the need to address.
Kennedy claimed, “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-safe vaccines.”
It’s understandable for people to say,“Yes, I vaccinate, but I don’t feel completely certain that vaccines are safe.” Since we’re unable to guarantee that vaccines will be 100% safe, this “pro-safe vaccine” battle cry is an effective way to appeal to parents who don’t have the time, the understanding or the inclination to delve into the science that supports the widespread use of vaccines.
By using this “pro-safe vaccine” label, Kennedy and others like him play into the emotional need of parents to protect their children while dangerously misleading them into thinking that vaccines are far more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. In essence, this statement is used to help anti-vaccine crusaders turn vaccine safety into a personal and anecdotal issue, when we should all be demanding that vaccine safety be investigated and addressed with scientific objectivity.
Kennedy continues to try to discredit his critics by questioning, “Why wouldn’t anyone be agreeable to studying vaccine safety?” He seems to suggest that anyone who isn’t “with” him in arguing that vaccines aren’t safe, is simply against safe vaccines.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Vaccine experts ARE agreeable to studying vaccine safety. In fact, that is largely what they do. But unlike Kennedy, they don’t rely on anecdotal evidence. They demand scientific evidence and they go to great lengths to get it.
If we were to go back in history, we would see plenty of examples of how our current vaccine safety protocols have successfully identified problems and taken steps to address them. Consider the history of the rotavirus vaccine. The vaccine was withdrawn in 1999 after scientists associated it with a rare intestinal problem called intussusception. This would not have been identified if it weren’t for the vaccine safety monitoring systems that we currently have in place. And what about the nasal spry flu vaccine which was pulled just prior to this flu season? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) decided not to recommend the vaccine based on low efficacy studies, especially among children. Again, an example of action taken by one of our current vaccine oversight committees. There are plenty of other examples of vaccines being pulled from the market – the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP), Lyme vaccine, and oral polio to name a few. These instances occurred because of the vaccine safety protocols in place. Read more…
In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.
Some sources say the players had fallen ill with a “flu-like bug”, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean. It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.
Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu”, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.
Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu” in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler. The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”. To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal. Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.
In an interview on NFL.com, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,
“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill. They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good. It could be good for those players. A lot of them play well.”
I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu. He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.
This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.
The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year. Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.
Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children. Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine. She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week. As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.” Read more…
Every Child By Two’s online platforms have reached over 11 million people with evidence based vaccine messaging in 2016. As we look back at the record number of views and shares there have been on Shot of Prevention blog posts this past year, we’re especially grateful to our blog readers, contributors and subscribers.
Whether you have shared a post, shared your story, or shared your expertise, know that our growth and success would not have been possible without your support. Thanks to you, people are referencing our content before making important immunization decisions for themselves and their families. In these final days of 2016, we hope that you will revisit these top five posts from the past year and share them with others in your social networks. Together, we can continue to engage more people in these important immunization discussions.
In 1949, Judith contracted polio along with 42,000 other people in the U.S. Judith survived five months in the hospital and multiple surgeries, but sadly 2,720 people died from polio that year. As Judith bravely shares her story, she explains that it represents an inconvenient truth to people who are in denial about the risks of polio. She is continually shocked by people who refuse vaccines, who refuse to believe she ever suffered with polio, or who actually believe the polio vaccine is part of a government or “big pharma” conspiracy. By sharing Judith’s story we hope to encourage continued polio vaccination and support of polio eradication worldwide and applaud people like Judith who are courageous enough to speak out in support of vaccines. To read Judith’s story, click here.
Emily Stillman was pronounced brain-dead just 30 hours from the onset of a severe headache. What they though was a migraine turned out to be meningococcal disease. In this post Emily’s mother Alicia explains that although Emily received a meningococcal vaccine, the MCV4 vaccine she received only protected her against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y. It did not protect her against serogroup B, which is what caused Emily’s death. Since Emily’s death, a MenB vaccine has been approved for use. However, most parents still don’t know it exists and therefore, most students are still not protected.
As the Director of The Emily Stillman Foundation, Alicia Stillman helps educate people about the importance of “complete and total” protection against all serogroups of meningococcal disease. This means ensuring that teens and young adults receive both meningococcal vaccines; the MCV4 vaccine that protects against serogroups A,C, W and Y, as well as a MenB vaccine series. To learn more about fully protecting our youth against meningococcal disease, read Alicia’s guest blog here.
Although the HPV vaccine is one of the most effective ways we have to prevent numerous types of cancer, it is still being grossly underutilized. As a result of persistent but inaccurate myths circulating on the internet, some parents are more fearful of the HPV vaccine than the human papillomavirus itself. This is causing them to refuse or delay HPV vaccination for their children.
In this popular blog post, we highlight ten critical facts that address the most common misconceptions about HPV infection and the vaccine that can help prevent this very common infection. To learn more, be sure to read the post here.
There are many misconceptions about hepatitis B and how the infection is transmitted. Because of this, many parents don’t consider their children to be at risk of infection and so they question the need for a hepatitis B vaccine at birth. In this post, the Prevent Cancer Foundation explains the connection between hepatitis B and liver cancer and discusses ways in which infants and children can unknowingly contract hepatitis B. Their Think About the Link™ education campaign suggests that vaccinating infants before they leave the hospital is a critical first step in protecting your newborn from a virus that can lead to cancer later in life. To learn more about Hepatitis B and the vaccine to prevent it, click here.
Back in the 1980’s, Barbara Loe Fisher claimed that the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP) was dangerous and causing too many adverse events. Her complaints prompted the development of the more purified (acellular) pertussis vaccines that we use today; DTaP for infants, and Tdap for adolescents and adults. While studies have shown that these newer vaccines are not as effective as the old whole cell pertussis vaccine, they are the best protections we have against the dangers of pertussis.
Unfortunately, those who need protection the most are those who are too young to be vaccinated. Infants are at high risk of severe complications from pertussis, to include hospitalization and death, but babies don’t begin receiving pertussis vaccine until two months of age. After newborn Calle Van Tornhout contracted pertussis from a hospital nurse at birth, she died at just 37 days of age. Callie’s death has had her home state of Indiana considering a bill that would mandate pertussis vaccination among health care workers. But Barbara Loe Fisher is opposed to that as well. To read more about the history of pertussis vaccines, click here.
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This guest post by Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu, is part of the CDC Flu Blog-A-Thon held in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week.
As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children. We buckle them into their car seats, make them wear their bike helmets, hold their hand while crossing the street, and even get them their recommended childhood vaccinations. But what about getting our kids the flu vaccine?
Sadly, only about 42% of adults and 60% of children received their annual flu vaccine last season.
These statistics may not mean much to you, unless you or a loved one have had a personal experience with the flu. But they haunt me every day. As a mother who lost her healthy, five-year-old son, Joseph, during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, I want to do everything I can to ensure no other child dies from flu.
Despite what many people may believe, influenza is not like the common cold. Influenza is a very serious and highly contagious disease that tends to develop quickly, especially in children. Influenza can also lead to hospitalization or death, even in otherwise healthy individuals. Every year in the U.S., approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized, and on average, 100 children die each year from flu infection and its complications. According to the CDC, 80 to 90 percent of pediatric flu deaths over the past few years have been in unvaccinated children, many of whom were otherwise healthy.
This is why I am writing this article and telling Joseph’s story again, in hopes that it will save someone else from losing a loved one to flu.
As a mother, I have always tried my best to protect my kids, including getting them vaccinated against the flu every year. When my son Joseph was in kindergarten, he received his annual flu vaccine on September 26, 2009. Unfortunately, the H1N1 flu strain was just developing, and it was not included in the seasonal vaccine that year. On October 9th he threw up a few times and became increasingly lethargic. Our pediatrician suggested we take him to the local urgent care and upon arrival, they found his blood oxygen level to be very low. They immediately transported him to the local children’s hospital where a rapid flu test came back negative and he was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia.
Several days into his hospital stay, the doctors informed us that Joseph’s culture was growing influenza, which was likely H1N1, but not to worry—it was “just the flu”.
Every Child By Two’s “State of the ImmUnion” campaign is honoring National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16) with a Blog Relay highlighting the importance of vaccines across the lifespan. In this second guest post we hear from a California colleague who has a particular interest in Maternal-Child Health.
Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Rosenblum, who is a Professor of Clinical Medicine at UC – San Diego Health System, with joint appointments in the Departments of Family Medicine & Public Health and in Reproductive Medicine, works hard to help protect pregnant women and their babies from pertussis.
The shattering loss of a child is something no family ever wants to experience. Unfortunately, this year in California, two families have suffered this loss in a particularly devastating manner. These two children, both under six months of age, died from a vaccine-preventable illness: whooping cough.
Whooping cough? Isn’t that a disease from the past, like bubonic plague or smallpox?
The unfortunate answer is no. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a disease that is still very much with us. It can infect both children and adults. It is most dangerous, however, for young infants. When whooping cough infects babies under two months of age, 90% will be hospitalized, 2-4% will suffer seizures, and 1 in 100 will die from complications of the disease.
How do infants get whooping cough?
The sad fact is, they get it from those around them. The disease is spread by infectious droplets in the air and is highly contagious. Adults with pertussis infection, who may only have a mild cough, may not realize they have the disease. And, tragically, adults have been shown to be a frequent source of infection to infants with whom they have close contact.
Is there any way to prevent pertussis in infants?
Fortunately, we have a vaccine, called Tdap. We know that when pregnant women are vaccinated during mid-pregnancy, their body has time to pass protective antibodies to their babies. These antibodies can help protect infants from the disease, until they are old enough to mount an immune response to their own pertussis vaccine.
I am a family physician, and care for many pregnant women and young families. I know from experience that some pregnant women are hesitant to get a vaccine, wondering if this might harm their growing baby. I try my best to explain that the opposite is true: that getting Tdap vaccine during pregnancy is far safer for their baby than NOT getting the vaccine. If born without protective antibodies, babies risk getting sick and dying from a potentially preventable disease.
Some of my patients tell me “I’ll get the Tdap vaccine, but I want to wait until after the baby is born.” Certainly, getting the vaccine is better than never getting it. However, this plan offers far less protection. In order for a baby to have protective antibodies circulating in his/her system from the moment of birth, the vaccine must be given at least 3-4 weeks prior to delivery. Currently in the United States, the recommended time of Tdap vaccination for pregnant women is between 27-36 weeks (6-8 months of pregnancy).
I care for some pregnant women whose children are closely spaced in age. When these women reach 27 weeks in a given pregnancy, I recommend Tdap. On occasion, they will tell me “I don’t need it, because I had it last year in my prior pregnancy.” However, in order to protect a newborn from whooping cough, a pregnant woman needs Tdap in each and every pregnancy. It is only when a woman receives the vaccine in a current pregnancy that she sends an abundant and protective amount of antibodies into the baby growing inside of her.
In order to protect infants from whooping cough, do other family members need to be vaccinated?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES! All family members, caregivers, and others who will be around an infant should be certain they are up-to-date with Tdap vaccine. When everyone around a baby is vaccinated, this provides a ‘cocoon’ of protection, greatly minimizing the chances a baby will get sick from the disease.
Children need five DTaP vaccines(the pediatric form of Tdap) at 2, 4, 6, 15 months and between ages 4-6. They need a Tdap booster at age 11. Adult men only need a single lifetime Tdap. Adult women only need a single lifetime Tdap, unless they are pregnant, in which case they need a Tdap in every pregnancy.
If a murderer was on the loose in California, intent on harming babies, there would be an immense outcry and demand for protection. Well, that murderer is pertussis. And, the best way to protect every infant from this disease is to spread the word of the importance of both maternal Tdap vaccination and vaccination for all members of our communities.
To determine what vaccines are needed before, during and after pregnancy, take a brief Pregnancy and Vaccination Quiz or visit the Pregnancy section of the Vaccinate Your Family website.
Dr. Rosenblum has completed a fellowship in Vaccine Science and Safety through the American Academy of Family Physicians. She chaired the Tdap Working Group in 2010, which coordinated UCSD’s response to the California pertussis epidemic. Her innovative work in designing and implementing a Tdap Cocooning Clinic led to her receiving the APhA Immunization Champion Award in 2011. She was chosen by the CDC to be the Childhood Immunization Champion for the State of California in 2014, in part due to her work in educating pregnant women and their families regarding the importance of childhood immunizations. She currently serves on two Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) work groups; the Tdap Work Group and the Combined Vaccine Work Group. She is also on the Steering Committee of the San Diego Immunization Coalition.
After losing her son Evan to meningococcal disease, Lynn Bozof’s life became a mission to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies. She has since co-founded the National Meningitis Association (NMA), to help educate people about the dangers of meningococcal disease. In this special State of the ImmUnion post, Lynn addresses some of the most common questions parents have asked her about meningococcal disease and the ways it can be prevented.
How would you describe the current “State of the ImmUnion” for meningococcal disease? How many cases of meningococcal disease are there in a typical year? Are enough people protected?
In the 14 years since NMA was founded, vaccination rates have climbed steadily while disease incidence has declined. Although we are pleased with this progress, there is much more work to be done to strengthen the State of the ImmUnion.
Annually, there are approximately 800-1200 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States. As an organization comprised of survivors and families who have lost children to this devastating disease, we at NMA know that one case is too many.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) routinely recommends meningococcal vaccines beginning at age 11-12, one in five U.S. teens are not vaccinated as recommended and one-third of those who get the first dose don’t go on to get their booster dose. This leaves adolescents unprotected as they enter some of their most vulnerable years.
What can parents do to protect their families from meningococcal disease?
As a parent who lost my college-age son, Evan, to meningococcal disease, I urge all parents to make sure their child is vaccinated. Vaccination offers the best protection against this disease, and parents should understand that to be fully vaccinated against meningococcal disease, your child should receive two kinds of meningococcal vaccines.
There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B.
MenACWY Vaccine: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12, with a booster at age 16.
MenB Vaccine: After the FDA approved this vaccine in 2014, the CDC made a permissive recommendation for children ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years.
Because it behaves somewhat differently, the B serogroup was not included in the ACWY vaccine, and it took longer for scientists to design an effective vaccine.
Today, nearly half (43 percent) of all meningococcal disease cases among U.S. teens and young adults are caused by serogroup B. Since MenB is a relatively new vaccine, and not routinely recommended, many parents and healthcare professionals remain unaware of this vaccine. This is particularly concerning since it’s the most common cause of meningococcal disease in adolescents and the cause of several outbreaks on college campuses in recent years. This is why we urge parents to have a conversation with your child’s doctor to ensure your child is fully vaccinated.
My doctor never mentioned a separate vaccine for serogroup B? Why is that?
While the MenACWY vaccine has been routinely recommended since 2005, the MenB vaccine received FDA approval in 2014. That is not to say this is a “new” vaccine. The MenB vaccine has been used in other countries for many years already, and safety and efficacy data from these countries has been extensively reviewed by the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP). After FDA approval in the U.S., the Committee gave this vaccine a permissive or “category B” recommendation. Unlike a routine recommendation, this recommendation puts more responsibility on parents to request the vaccine, which is why it is important to be proactive and ask your doctor about it.
Are there certain people who should be particularly concerned about meningococcal disease? How easily does it spread?
Vaccines are recommended for adolescents and young adults because they are at higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
The following factors increase the risk of disease: being an adolescent or young adult, spending time in large crowds like parties or dorms, and participating in behaviors like kissing or sharing drinks. But, anyone at any age can contract it.
Other people who are at higher risk for the disease include:
- Infants under 1 year of age
- People living in crowded settings like college dorms or military barracks
- People living with HIV
- Those with persistent complement component deficiency or anatomic or functional asplenia
- People traveling to certain areas outside the U.S. such as the meningitis belt in Africa
- Laboratory personnel who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
- Those who might have been exposed to meningococcal disease during an outbreak
Meningococcal disease is contagious. It is spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions during close contact such as kissing, sharing drinks or coughing on someone. Although meningococcal bacteria are very dangerous, they cannot live outside the body for very long. This means the infection is not as easily spread as a cold virus. About one in ten people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose or throat without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease. These people can unknowingly transmit the bacteria to others.
Of those who contract the disease, 1 in 10 will die and 2 in 10 will suffer from long term complications, including deafness, brain damage, or limb amputations.