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

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flu Vaccination is a Team Sport

November 10, 2017 Leave a comment
This week, as we wrap up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Flu Blog-a-thon, we hear from Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu about how we all pay a role in flu prevention.

Most people know that the flu is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease. What they don’t always realize is that flu prevention is a team sport.

It’s great when individuals get vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older.  But flu vaccination is not just about us as individuals. Healthy communities rely on cooperation and coordination of everyone – from family members to healthcare professionals. 

Flu is worth preventing.  

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  • According to the CDC, every year in the United States, the flu kills upwards of 56,000 people, which typically includes about 100 children. That’s more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The CDC estimates that since 2010, hospitalizations due to flu ranged from approximately 140,000 to 710,000 cases per year, with hospitalizations of children five years of age and younger ranging from 7,000 to 26,000 cases per year.

Flu vaccination is critical to keeping our communities healthy. 

According to a recent study, the flu vaccine was found to prevent death in otherwise healthy children by as much as 65 percent. Also, it can reduce the risk of flu illness for the general population by up to 60 percent when the vaccine is well-matched to circulating strains.

The “community immunity” that is achieved when large numbers of a population vaccinate is particularly important. People in high-risk groups such as babies younger than 6 months old who are too young to receive a flu vaccination, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, are not only more susceptible to suffering with flu, but also more likely to suffer complications if they fall victim to flu.

We all play a role on the flu prevention team. 

Parents

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Children are often the “spreaders” of germs in their communities, which may explain why children have the highest rate of infection from flu. On average, children miss more than 38 million school days due to flu in the U.S., which can result in medical expenses and time off from work for parents. Young children are also at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, including hospitalization and death. Since parents are responsible for vaccinating themselves and their children against flu, they can be considered the “Captains” of our flu prevention team. 

 

Healthcare Professionals

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Research shows that a strong recommendation for annual flu vaccination from healthcare professionals is an important factor to improving vaccination rates. Most adults believe in the importance of vaccination, but sometimes need an annual reminder to actually do it. 

That’s why Families Fighting Flu has developed a new educational resource for healthcare professionals in collaboration with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and HealthyWomen. Through this collaboration entitled Do You Know the Flu?, we are arming healthcare professionals with the resources they need to effectively communicate the importance of flu vaccination to patients of all ages.

School Nurses and Teachers

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Studies have shown that high vaccination rates among school children (50 to 70%) can dramatically reduce the overall burden of disease in the entire community. Families Fighting Flu recognizes the role that school nurses and teachers play in educating school-aged children and their families. This is why we’ve developed our Keep Flu out of School program. By collaborating with the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the National Association of School Nurses, Families Fighting Flu has worked closely with a team of professionals to provide critical resources to school nurses and teachers to assist them with flu prevention efforts in their communities.

Co-Workers

Flu is not only a public health issue, but also an economic one. Flu costs the U.S. economy an estimated $10.4 billion every year. According to a recent survey released in October, roughly three out of five Americans (61%) who had the flu or flu-like symptoms admitted to leaving home while ill, which can put others at risk. It’s no doubt that many of us have experienced a sick co-worker at the office who should have stayed home, but instead is now exposing others to flu.

Teammates 

Teamwork is critical to the success of any sports team. Because team mates spend a great deal of time together, it’s not uncommon to hear about professional or collegiate sports teams that have all fallen victim to the flu during important play-off games. That’s why it’s important for athletes to get an annual flu vaccination in an effort to stay healthy and Stay in the Game™.

While we each make a personal decision about flu vaccination, it is our hope that people will recognize that a choice not to get a flu vaccine could have a profound impact on our own health, as well as the health of our families, classmates, coworkers and teammates.

While there is a “U” in flu, there is no “I” in “team”. 

Vaccinate Your Family and Families Fighting Flu are two members of the national team of flu vaccination advocates. Together, we encourage all individuals six months of age and older to get their annual flu vaccination stop that you can Stay in the Game™.

For more information, visit the Families Fighting Flu website at www.familiesfightingflu.org.

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

October 18, 2017 6 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…

101 Empty Chairs

June 23, 2017 1 comment

By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the 2016/2017 flu season has now claimed the lives of more than 100 children. 101 to be exact.  This statistic is hauntingly familiar – three of the past five flu seasons also claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

101 Pediatric Flu Deaths

Sometimes we forget what these numbers really mean.

It means that 101 families had to bury their beloved children; 101 families have to listen to the deafening sound of silence left by their lost loved ones; and 101 families now have empty chairs at their dinner tables every night.

I paint this picture because I know how these families feel. They’re probably thinking the same thing I did after my son died from the flu – how did this happen and what could I have done to prevent it? 

Unfortunately, unless flu has personally touched your family like it has mine, chances are you’re not all that worried about flu.  You may even think it’s just a bad cold. Well, as the mother of a child who lost her five-year old son to flu, I’m here to tell you, “Not so“.

According to the CDC, flu kills more Americans every year – up to 56,000 people – than any other vaccine-preventable disease.  Since 2004, when the CDC started reporting pediatric flu deaths, 1,466 children – many of whom were otherwise healthy – have lost their lives to flu.

Flu is that infectious disease that seems to fly under the radar. While everyone is focused on the latest outbreak of measles, mumps, pertussis or meningitis, flu is that one disease that we know we will have an outbreak of each and every year.  As prevalent as flu is, it still manages to creep up like a quiet thief in the night, stealing our loved ones right out from under our noses.  And yet when it does, we wonder why we never saw it coming.  Flu has killed millions of people worldwide – and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from influenza each year?  Annual vaccination.

Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce the likelihood of death and hospitalization from flu in people of all ages.  Yet, less than half of Americans get their annual flu vaccine.   Read more…

Did the Flu Take Down the Packers & the Steelers in the NFL Playoffs?

January 23, 2017 1 comment

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.  

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-34-51-pmSome 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 screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-41-49-pmis 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…

A Mother’s Plea: Don’t Let Flu Steal Your Healthy Child

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment

CDC Flu Blog-A-Thon
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.  

jojo-and-sunflowers-croppedThese 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”.

Read more…

Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret

December 12, 2014 166 comments

By Joe Lastinger, Board Member, Families Fighting Flu

1525360_10151953693783780_1550060010_nMy daughter, Emily, should have started high school this year full of excitement and potential. Her teachers would ask her, “Are you Chris’s little sister?” or “Are you Andrew’s little sister?” In my head I imagine her earning high marks in advanced classes, joining student council, playing volleyball and basketball and having a great group of close friends. Now I realize that it might not have turned out that way. It’s quite possible that Emily would have entered high school at the peak of her teenage rebellion and might not even be on speaking terms with her mom and me. We will never know, because she died suddenly and tragically from influenza when she was only 3½-years-old.

Emily died from influenza in 2004. She died in our bed, in her pajamas, watching cartoons – just hours before we were scheduled to take her back to her pediatrician to have her looked at again.   Doctors have terms to describe how children like Emily can be so sick and not necessarily appear so…it’s called “compensation”. Children, we learned, can sometimes compensate for illness…until they can’t anymore.

If I had to describe how my wife and I thought about influenza – “the flu” – before Emily died from it, I would compare it to lice. I know that seems like a silly comparison, but chances are most parents at one time or another have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with lice. It’s a nuisance, cleaning hair, searching for nits, laundering, etc. You hope that the rest of the family doesn’t get it. You are kind of mad that it happened at all. It messes up your family’s busy schedule. You worry that other parents aren’t being diligent and will end up re-infecting your kids (well, at least we did). Maybe you wonder who started this whole mess to begin with.

But, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. You don’t have to be old, sick or immune compromised. Influenza kills healthy adults and children (like Emily) every year. We’ve spent the last decade working to reduce the number of kids that die every year from the flu. Much of this work has been through Families Fighting Flu, a non-profit advocacy organization we played a small role in getting started, and some of it has been on our own through state and regional efforts in Texas.

The year 2015 will mark a decade that my wife and I have been working to reduce (eliminate, really) the number of childhood deaths attributed to influenza. Ten years without Emily in our lives. Ten years working to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to other parents.  There have been successes (universal vaccine recommendations) and failures along the way (people still aren’t taking advantage of vaccinations that are widely available). Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned over that time and thought I would share a few insights. Read more…