March 6, 2015

Autism Organization Supports Immunizations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that nearly 120 people have contracted measles as a result of the outbreak that started a couple of months ago in Disneyland. According to a CNN poll, nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe parents should be required to vaccinate their healthy children against such preventable diseases.

But some people won’t vaccinate their kids because they still believe the falsehood that it raises the risk of autism. In the face of the measles outbreak, Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy organization, urges parents to vaccinate their children.

As reported by the Washington Post, Rob Ring, the chief science officer for Autism Speaks, issued a statement that vaccinations cannot cause the disorder — and telling parents to vaccinate their children.

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism,” it said. “The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”

Could anything be clearer for the people who have shown a disturbing inability to accept hard science? Yes, fear is a powerful motivator, but when it has been proved to be unfounded, when a reputable nonprofit organization that promotes autism awareness and sponsors research in the field is on the record as supporting immunization, fear should fall victim to fact.

The bogus study that started the whole fiction claimed that there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. But it was discredited, the journal that published the study retracted it and the British doctor who conducted it lost his medical license.

Last year, The Post reported, Ring also definitively supported vaccinating children. “Autism Speaks’ own policy on vaccines echoes those of other credible health-care organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization,” he said. “We strongly encourage parents to work with their physician to ensure their children receive the full benefits immunization offers in protecting their loved ones against a variety of preventable childhood diseases.”

All states grant parents the right not to vaccinate children for legitimate medical reasons, such as certain medical conditions or for religious reasons. But nonmedical exemptions are increasingly suspect, and since the recent outbreak, more medical professionals have weighed in publicly about the anti-vaccine movement. Some refuse to treat patients who refuse their immunizations.

Said one, as quoted by the Associated Press, “Parents who choose not to give measles shots, they’re not just putting their kids at risk, but they’re also putting other kids at risk — especially kids in my waiting room.”

The risk is especially unfair for people who can’t be vaccinated because they have a medical condition or because they are too young (less than a year old). One doctor interviewed by WWBT-TV in Richmond, Va., said, “I’ve seen the horror stories of what happens from these diseases and now this generation of doctors have never seen them because of immunization practices. One out of a thousand people infected with measles dies. And just because we haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not coming.”

For more information, read the policy statement of Autism Speaks and see our blogs about childhood vaccinations.

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January 9, 2015

What to Do About Unvaccinated Kids in Day Care

A wave of disinformation in recent years has overwhelmed some otherwise thoughtful parents, prompting them to decline standard vaccinations for their children. But a recent study gives hope that wiser minds still prevail.

According to University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, nearly 3 in 4 parents would remove their child from a day-care facility if other children there are unvaccinated. And more than 4 in 10 say kids who are “under-vaccinated” should be excluded from day care.

As explained in a news release from the university, all states require vaccines for children who attend day care, but the requirements might not include every recommended vaccine from birth to age 5. So some children still don’t receive all of those vaccines, which means day-care providers and parents must decide for themselves what to do about children in their child’s midst who aren’t up-to-date on all of their vaccines.

Some of the results from the national survey of parents with children as old as 5:

  • 74 percent agreed or strongly agreed that children’s immunization status should be reviewed every year to ensure they are up-to-date;

  • 74 percent would consider removing their child from a day-care facility where 1 in 4 kids weren’t up-to-date on vaccines;

  • percent that supported excluding children from a day-care facility who hadn’t gotten all vaccines: 41; percent that would allow a grace period for getting vaccinated: 28; percent that would insist on a doctor’s waiver for an unvaccinated child: 21; percent that would allow an unvaccinated child to attend a day-care facility: 10;

  • percent that say they should be informed of how many children at their day-care facility who aren’t up-to-date on vaccines: 66; percent who say the unvaccinated children should be named: 25.

Although the study “mirrors the national statistics that show approximately 25% of preschool children in the United States are not fully vaccinated,” according to Sarah J. Clark, associate director of the poll and a research scientist in the university’s department of pediatrics, the results “indicate that most parents want strong policies around making sure children in day care are up-to-date on vaccines. Checking vaccination records every year is beyond the scope of many state requirements, and may represent a significant change in practice at many day cares.”

Because the poll shows that parents want to know how many children lack vaccines, Clark believes that such information “might help parents understand the risk that their child could contract a vaccine-preventable disease — or transmit the disease to a vulnerable family member, such as a person with cancer.

“… Parents should feel empowered to ask about day-care vaccination policies, such as how the day-care handles the situation of children who are not up-to-date, and whether they check children’s vaccination status every year.”

To learn more about children’ vaccines, see our blogs here.

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August 1, 2014

Vaccine Film Prompts Adults to Teach Children the Wrong Life Lesson

When parents and teachers at a Southern California high school withheld a student-made film about vaccination out of concern for the social blowback, they voted for ignorance at the expense of science.

Carlsbad High has an award-winning broadcast journalist program that produced “Invisible Threat,” a documentary about “the science of disease and the risks facing a society that is under-vaccinated.” As the students and their advisors put the final touches on the film and prepared to release it, according the Los Angeles Times, “they found themselves cast as foot soldiers in a long-running immunization war between a small group of activists who argue that vaccines cause autism and the vast majority of physicians and scientists who say they don't.”

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ongoing effort to protect public health in the face of vocal, and often prominent, people who have no scientific basis for their ridiculous ideas, and who, by not vaccinating their children, put everyone at risk. (See our blog, “More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism.”

In Carlsbad, the anti-vaccine lobby charged that the students had been duped by deceitful advisors who had been paid off by the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines, and the criticism delayed the launch of the movie for months. In May, the parent-teacher association canceled an on-campus screening not because they didn’t believe it was a worthy film, but because they were afraid that anti-vaccine activists would show up.

In other words, they taught their kids that, even if you’re doing something right and righteous, if there’s a chance it will cause trouble, it’s best to relinquish your principles and sit quietly with your hands folded.

Nice lesson, eh?

The kids, to their credit, objected. "We're an extracurricular film club," Mark Huckaby told The Times. He narrated the film. "It's just not cool."

The filmmakers denied being pawns of anyone. And they had done some great journalism. Their area's historically high vaccination rate was starting to slip, and they knew there was a story there.

According to the California Department of Public Health, says The Times, the percentage of new kindergartners in San Diego County who seek exemptions from immunizations has increased from about 1 in 100 15 years ago to 4.5 in 100 last school year.

Measles and whooping cough, which had been in decline, were emerging anew, as in many other areas of the U.S.

The students read studies, interviewed medical experts who praised vaccines as well as parents who distrusted them and a local osteopath who treats autistic children.

Even Dr. Melinda Wharton, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization services division said they did a good job interpreting the scientific material.

Some of the students initially believed vaccines and autism were linked, they said, but they changed their minds as they researched. "It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy," said Allison DeGour, another of the students involved.

The final version of "Invisible Threat" took a strong pro-vaccine position. And although it still hasn’t been seen by the large numbers it deserves, the parent advisor who served as the film’s producer announced that the movie would go on the Web on Aug. 1, in conjunction with National Immunization Awareness Month.

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June 20, 2014

CDC Says Parents Who Opt Out of Vaccinations Are Spreading Measles

A disturbing number of parents refuse vaccinations for their children because they believe immunization poses a risk of autism. They don’t believe the science proving not only the wisdom of being immunized, but the folly of the autism claim. And the consequences of their actions are beginning to emerge. In the first five months of this year, 288 cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s the highest year-to-date total in 20 years.

The CDC report was clear that the reason for measles’ renewed vigor in the U.S. was because more people are rejecting vaccination — 200 of the 288 cases occurred in unvaccinated people. And in 1 of 5 of the rest, vaccination status couldn’t be determined, so the 200 figure could well be low.

Measles is not just an inconvenient episode of itchy, red skin bumps. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and even death, especially for children and infants.

Loyola University Health System in Chicago is renowned for its work in infection control and prevention. In a statement last month, Dr. Jorge Parada, its medical director for infectious disease, said, “People who consciously opt out of vaccines are depending on herd immunity — that enough other people will get vaccinated so as to prevent infection — which seriously undermines the herd immunity they depend on for safety. It's a numbers game, and America is losing ground in the fight against preventable disease.”

People in the anti-vaccination movement generally are affluent, educated and privileged. They have no excuse for choosing to be ignorant. They are vocal, but why anyone grants them a bully pulpit is mystifying. That question was plumbed by a recent episode on TV’s satiric “Daily Show," which was at once hilarious and painful.

We’ve regularly expressed our astonishment that people are so eager to accept bunk; that they are not, in fact, protecting their children from autism by withholding vaccinations, but instead are increasing their risk — and that of other people — of measles, polio and whooping cough. (See our blogs, “Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective” and “More Proof That Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism.”)

The CDC noted that the three largest outbreaks of measles so far this year “occurred after introduction of measles into communities with pockets of persons who were unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.”

“Religious, philosophical or personal reasons are not medical reasons for not getting vaccinated,” Parada said. And although that’s a harsh judgment, it’s based on concern for society at large.

Sometimes, the individual must sacrifice for the greater good, but in this case, it’s not even about sacrifice — when the reasons behind the anti-vaccination movement have been proved to be bogus, the only thing you’re sacrificing by doing the responsible thing is willful ignorance.

Some people have legitimate medical reasons for not being immunized — they might be allergic, or pregnant, for example. (See the CDC’s guide to who should not get vaccinated here.) These are the people most vulnerable to contracting disease when others opt not to protect themselves.

People who shun vaccination play the odds that they won’t get sick, but do they have the right to play with other peoples’ odds?

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June 28, 2013

HPV Vaccine Is a Clear Success

As we wrote a couple of years ago, adolescent vaccination rates for several diseases were up, and although the one for human papillomavirus (HPV) was among them, its rates lagged the others.

Being vaccinated against HPV before a person is sexually active protects girls from developing cervical cancer later in life and can protect boys from genital warts and penile and anal cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Despite the less than ideal vaccination numbers, there’s good news: The HPV vaccine is reducing the prevalence of the virus dramatically in teenage girls.

As reported by NPR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a study showing that in the first four years of immunization, infections from the four strains of the virus targeted by the vaccines fell by more than half among U.S. 14- to 19-year-olds.

The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, found no decrease in the HPV strains covered by the vaccine in other age groups, which supports the idea that the vaccine is responsible for the decrease among teenagers. Also supporting the association is the fact that researchers did not find that sexual activity among girls in the target population had decreased; still, the prevalence of HPV declined from nearly 12% to slightly more than 5%.

Despite the CDC’s vigorous promotion of getting kids vaccinated before they become sexually active, many parents resist, somehow thinking that being immunized is the same thing as giving permission to have sex. Others are wary in general of vaccines, an attitude we’ve addressed here, ( “More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do with Autism”) and here. (“Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective.”)

Federal health officials, according to NPR, were surprised at the significant decrease, considering that only about 1 in 3 girls in this age group has received the full three-dose course of the vaccine. About half have received a single dose.

The CDC recommends that girls get the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12, but females as old as 26 are urged to get the three-shot course if they have not received the vaccine earlier. The recommendation is the same for boys, except that the “catch-up” vaccination is recommended only until 21.

The cost, says NPR, runs $128 to $135 a dose, or around $400 for the full course, but it’s covered by many insurers, and Vaccines for Children, a federal program, provides it free for qualified patients.

The CDC’s goal is to get 80 percent of adolescents fully vaccinated. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Friedan told NPR, “Of girls alive today between the ages of zero and 13, there will be 50,000 more cases of cancer if we don't increase the rates to 80%. And for every single year we delay in getting to 80%, another 4,400 women are going to develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes — even with good screening programs."

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April 5, 2013

More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism

A new, large study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should help redirect the concern of parents who still wonder if vaccines have a role in children developing autism.

The science-based medical establishment has not wavered from the position that children should be vaccinated against a variety of diseases (See our blog, “Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective”), but a campaign devoid of science and juiced by quackery keeps planting the seeds of skepticism about whether vaccines do more harm than good.

As reported last week on NPR, the answer, again, is a categorical “no.” The CDC study found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. And even though kids get more vaccines than they used to, they’re far less able to provoke an immune response than older versions.

That’s because newer vaccines have fewer antigens. Those substances cause the body to produce antibodies, which are proteins that fight infection. Our bodies are experienced antibody-producers because we’re routinely exposed to microbes, whether they’re the bacteria responsible for a sinus infection or a virus that results in a cold sore. In other words, antibody production is a natural, vital part of human life. To believe it’s responsible for causing a mental disorder is nonsensical.

The CDC study compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder with the histories of 750 kids who weren’t. Researchers compared medical records to see how many antigens each child received and whether that affected the risk of autism. The results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, were clear.

"The amount of antigens from vaccines received on one day of vaccination or in total during the first two years of life is not related to the development of autism spectrum disorder in children," said lead author Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office of the CDC. Because kids, like everyone else, are constantly exposed to antigens from bacteria and viruses, "It's not really clear why a few more antigens from vaccines would be something that the immune system could not handle," he said.

The the number of vaccines a kid is supposed to get has increased, but the number of antigens in vaccines has decreased. A lot. In the late 1990s, vaccinations exposed children to several thousand antigens, the study said. By 2012, that number was 315.

That’s because the science of vaccination has improved; it’s more precise in how antibodies kick-start the immune system.

The problem with supporters of quack science is not only that they leave their children and others in their community vulnerable to the problems vaccines address, they also divert resources into worthless pursuits that otherwise would contribute to the body of science, not waste time trying to overcome it.

"I certainly hope that a carefully conducted study like this will get a lot of play, and that some people will find this convincing," Ellen Wright Clayton told NPR. She’s a professor at Vanderbilt University who contributed to a report on vaccine safety for the Institute of Medicine. “That would let researchers pursue more important questions.

"The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they're missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are," she said. "It's not vaccines."

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February 1, 2013

Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective

Despite the proven effectiveness of childhood vaccines for measles, polio and whooping cough, many parents are leery of giving them to their children for fear of causing more problems than the vaccines solve.

The evidence for the use of vaccines has been overwhelming, and now there’s new information to support the wisdom of vaccinating children. According to a widely reported story, including on NPR, scheduling children to be immunized 24 times by the age of 2 is safe and effective. The latest research was conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

The IOM is is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. The agency spent a year reviewing all available scientific data to reach its conclusion.

The IOM committee reviewed several medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases (including diabetes), asthma, hypersensitivity, allergies, seizures, epilepsy, child developmental disorders including autism, and other learning disorders, communications disorders, intellectual disabilities and even rare disorders like Tourette's syndrome, which can cause odd tics and body movements and inappropriate outbursts. None of the conditions the committee examined could be linked to the vaccination schedule.

Parents should be reassured, one of the committee members told NPR. But its report also said that the research about the timing and number of vaccines isn't as complete as it could be. The IOM can’t say for certain, for example, if it’s just as safe and effective if vaccines are spread out over a longer period than the current span.

“Once the schedule has been set, though, no one has studied whether moving the vaccine forward two weeks or backward two weeks or adding two vaccines together or splitting them apart would be better than the current schedule," one committee member told NPR.

The committee recommends additional research to analyze the health outcomes of children who don’t get vaccines as soon as they are recommended either because they get sick and can't get a vaccine on schedule or because their parents are concerned about the safety of getting multiple vaccines simultaneously, and decide to space them out.

“Preliminary research,” according to the NPR story, “does show [that] children who don't get vaccinated on time are hospitalized more often than children who are immunized according to federal guidelines.”

Still, some parents aren’t buying into the science.

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a nonprofit whose mission is “the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending the informed consent ethic in medicine,” said the IOM committee considered only about 40 studies, which it feels is insufficient to draw the conclusion about safety.

The NVIC says it does not advocate for or against the use of vaccines, and supports the availability of vaccines, and the right of consumers to make “educated, voluntary health care choices.”

According to federal health officials, most parents follow the recommended vaccine schedule, and 9 in 10 children are fully vaccinated by the time they enter kindergarten. Only about 1 in 100 parents refuse all vaccines.

For a thoughtful essay that respects the highly charged feelings on both sides of the vaccine issue, see our post from last year, “A Doctor’s Advice to Parents About Vaccines,” and our newsletter from last year, “Vaccines: The Neglected Shot of Prevention.”

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August 17, 2012

College Kids Need Vaccinations Too

Most parents are familiar with the need to immunize young children to protect against a variety of diseases including polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). As summer wanes and families prepare for a new school year, parents should consider immunizing their older children as well -- especially for meningitis.

As noted by Dr. Peter N. Wenger of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, “Children who are preparing for their freshman year in a dormitory are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis.”

Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord. It’s caused most often by infection (bacteria, viruses or fungi), but can be caused by cancer, immune system disorders and responses to chemotherapy and some chemical agents. It can lead to permanent disability or death.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s fatal for 10 to 14 of 100 cases. Nearly 20 in 100 survivors suffer brain damage, amputation or kidney failure.

Of the approximately 2,600 otherwise healthy people stricken every year with meningitis, teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk.

Meningitis is not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, but populations such as dormitory residents are at greater risk because it spreads through the exchange of respiratory or throat secretions—coughing and kissing. Crowded living conditions and the sharing of utensils, drinking glasses and cigarettes contribute to a welcome environment for these microbes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all first-year college students receive the meningitis vaccine. It’s safe, highly effective and confers 3 to 5 years of protection. Many states require that all incoming students living on college campuses either have a vaccination or sign a waiver stating they choose not to be vaccinated for this disease.

If your college-age child isn’t able to be vaccinated before heading off to school, one of his or her first stops on campus should be the student health center. Wenger recommends that college students also consider these vaccines:

  • HPV (human papilloma virus), which protects against the viruses that cause most cervical cancers, anal cancer, and genital warts;

  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), which is given as a one-time dose to adolescents and adults;

  • hepatitis A, which protects against the serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver;

  • annual immunization against influenza;

  • any vaccines not offered when the child was an infant, such as varicella (chickenpox), if the child has not acquired wild-type chickenpox.

To review childhood immunizations recommended by the CDC, click here. For information about vaccinations for adults, see my newsletter story, “Vaccines: The Neglected Shot of Prevention.”

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February 7, 2012

A Doctor's Advice to Parents About Vaccinations

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about childhood vaccinations and their alleged potential to do more harm than good. Most of the cautionary tales shed more heat than light, and endanger the children they purport to protect.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, Dr. Douglas S. Diekema published a thoughtful commentary about the struggle some parents have with the idea of vaccinations and how the medical community can encourage people to get their kids appropriately protected with vaccines.

He recounted the story of a mother who wanted to follow an “alternative” schedule versus that driven by best medical practice. The pediatrician went along, prompting the mother to believe that the recommended schedule was no better than her alternative.

Thousands of parents are like her. Some choose not to vaccinate their children at all. Some have religious or philosophical reasons, some want to spare their children from uncomfortable procedures, some just don’t believe the benefit outweighs the risk. Many have no experience with or knowledge of serious vaccine-preventable diseases like polio or measles.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t contemporary health threats that vaccines neutralize. In 2010, California reported more than 9,000 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) — more than the state had seen since 1947. Nearly 9 in 10 involved infants younger than 6 months, a group too young to be adequately immunized and largely dependent on “herd immunity” (when vaccinating a significant portion of a population imparts protection for all members who have not developed immunity). Ten of the California infants died from the infection.

Because some parents—those with religious or strong personal beliefs—probably aren’t capable of being persuaded to vaccinate their children, whether for their own good or the good of society—Diekema focuses on the parents who question the safety of vaccines or have logistic or financial concerns.

1. Eliminate money barriers and disincentives to vaccination. Even small co-payments or fees pose substantial barriers for some families. Public health clinics are one option, but can require travel and time away from work — all disincentives to following through. “Incentives can take several forms, including reduced insurance rates, tax rebates or direct payments,” he writes.

2. Strengthen and enforce school-entry requirements. Such requirements effectively boost immunization rates for school-age children, but vary widely by state in terms of exemptions allowed. “All states allow exemptions for medical reasons, 48 for religious reasons and 20 for philosophical reasons.”

Acknowledging that eliminating exemptions for religious and personal beliefs would encounter substantial resistance, Diekema remains resolute. “The exemption process should not be easier or less costly than the vaccination process. Obtaining a religious or personal-belief exemption should at least require a visit to the physician's office, including counseling on the risks posed by remaining unvaccinated; insurance should pay for such visits.” States could require exemption requests to be signed by both parents if both are legally authorized. “Although such measures wouldn't change the stance of the most resistant parents, they would eliminate many exemptions sought because of convenience rather than conviction.”

Diekema also points out that lax enforcement of school-entry requirements communicates that vaccination is merely bureaucratic rather than a way to ensure students' safety.

3. Address misinformation about vaccines promptly and aggressively. “False or misleading information about vaccination is widely dispersed by a few influential individuals, self-described vaccine-safety advocates and some clinicians. Public health officials and professional organizations should respond swiftly to dishonest or unbalanced portrayals of vaccination.”

4. Clinicians, health-care organizations and public health departments must be persuasive. “Data and facts,” Diekema states, “no matter how strongly supportive of vaccination, will not be sufficient to compete with the opposition's emotional appeals. The use of a compelling story about a single victim of vaccine-preventable illness is far more likely than data to move an audience to action.”

This outreach, he says, is the responsibility of primary care providers. “Parents will be most receptive to considering vaccination if they believe their provider is primarily motivated by the welfare of the individual child rather than an abstract public health goal.” As we’ve said over and over, a doctor’s willingness to listen respectfully, encourage questions and respect parental concerns are essential for any professional health-care provider. Accurate information about both risks and benefits is crucial to maintaining trust, and must include a discussion of risks associated with both remaining unvaccinated and delaying certain vaccines.

5. Set an example. “We're unlikely to achieve optimal vaccination rates until health-care professionals comply with vaccine recommendations for themselves and their children. The unwillingness of many clinicians to submit to influenza vaccination each year is disgraceful, sets a poor example and gives patients reason to question the safety and efficacy of vaccines.”

We couldn’t agree more: Doctor, heal thyself.

First published on Technorati.

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December 4, 2011

HPV Vaccination Now Recommended for Boys

The FDA has approved two vaccines to ward off infection by some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cancer. But until recently, the shot was promoted only for girls. (The vaccine is useless unless given before the onset of sexual activity.)

But the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization and Practices (ACIP) recently issued a recommendation that boys and young men also receive the vaccination to protect against genital warts and anal cancer. Males are at a lower risk of developing cancer from HPV, but they can transmit HPV to their partners.

We recently wrote about the lag in HPV vaccination for young people, but that was before the ACIP issued its recent report. The more often parents are made aware of the solid science, the more likely they are to protect their children’s future health.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet, HPV infection in the U.S. is widespread, with more than 6 million new infections annually. Approximately half of all sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives.

Currently, the vaccines are administered in three doses over 6 months, but research is underway to determine whether two might be sufficient to provide protection.

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September 8, 2011

Vaccinating Teens for Sexually Transmitted Cancers Still Lags in Use

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focusing on vaccination coverage of teenagers from 13 to 17 presents a good-news/bad-news scenario.

Good news: Adolescent vaccination rates for meningococcus (MenACWY, which protects against meningococcal meningitis), tetanus/diptheria/acellular pertussis (Tdap) and human papillomavirus (HPV), all increased from 2009 and 2010. Bad news: HPV vaccination rates lagged the other two, and less than one-third of the subjects completed the three-shot series.

Vaccinating against HPV protects girls from developing cervical cancer later in life and can protect boys from genital warts and anal cancer. But the shot has to be given before sexual activity begins.

The CDC survey has collected provider-verified vaccination data since 2006 in a random telephone survey of parents or caregivers, verified by records from health-care providers. The latest survey found that almost two-thirds of respondents had received MenACWY, slightly more than two-thirds had received the Tdap and nearly half of respondents received one the recommended three doses for HPV vaccine.

From 2009 to 2010, among girls who received the three HPV doses, coverage increased by 5 in 100, which was considerably less than those observed for the Tdap (13 in 100) and meningitis (9 in 100) vaccines.

There were notable geographic differences in who got the vaccines, with states in the southeast lagging other regions.

Melinda Wharton, M.D., M.P.H. and deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said, "Far too few U.S. girls are getting the HPV vaccine. We can do better at this — we've got in our possession a very powerful tool: a vaccine that prevents cancer," she said. "If we all take actions to protect girls starting today, we'll have generations of women who will never be diagnosed with cervical cancer."

One manufacturer’s HPV vaccine also is recommended for adolescent males to prevent four common HPV strains that cause genital warts and anal cancer.

Wharton told Medscape that several factors might explain the disparity in rates between HPV vaccination and the other two. Adherence is a lot easier for a single-dose vaccine than for one that requires three shots. And many parents believe that girls are too young at the recommended age (11 or 12) to receive the vaccine.

There isn’t really an answer to the first impediment, and the CDC recommends a two-dose series for MenACWY. As for the second impediment, as Wharton points out, the vaccine doesn’t work “unless it is given prior to the onset of sexual activity, and that's why we recommend it so young."

"Even if we know our children very well, we don't know when they are going to be first sexually active," Wharton said. "It's also possible that most parents are not going to be as concerned about [the young age at first dose] as providers think they might," she said. "If a provider makes a strong recommendation for this vaccine ... it may be that parents won't have many questions about it."

Your pediatrician doesn’t schedule vaccinations according to personal habits or family dynamics. It’s about preventing disease the most effective way possible. Science doesn’t judge; it analyzes.

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February 22, 2011

Parents Lose Vaccine Case in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court says parents whose children allegedly are injured by vaccine shots cannot sue the manufacturer in court even if the special federal panel set up to compensate vaccine injury victims rejects their claim.

Robalee and Russell Bruesewitz of Pittsburgh, filed a lawsuit for their daughter, Hannah, after their claim in the federal vaccine court was rejected. They say she was a healthy infant until she received the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine in April 1992. The vaccine was made by Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer, Inc. Within hours of getting the DPT shot, the third in a series of five, the baby suffered a series of debilitating seizures. Hannah continues to suffer from residual seizure disorder and has developmental problems and cannot care for herself.

Congress set up a special federal "no fault" compensation system in 1986, putting a small tax on each unit of vaccine sold. The system has paid $1.9 billion to families since then, but the vaccine court ruled that the Bruesewitz family didn't have enough evidence that their daughter's seizures were caused by the vaccine.

That form of the DTP vaccine was later taken off the market.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for six justices, said Congress intended to bar all suits against manufacturers other than the non-fault cases in the federal vaccine court. Two other justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, disagreed. Nothing in the 1986 law "remotely suggests that Congress intended such a result," Sotomayor wrote.

David Frederick, who represented the Bruesewitz family at the Supreme Court, said, "I'm disappointed for the families of victims of defectively designed vaccines, who now have no remedy at law for their injuries."

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February 10, 2011

Vaccines for Kids: Latest Recommendations

Here are the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on childhood vaccinations. Immunization shots took a bad, and unjustified, rap for their never proven connection to autism. These vaccines are necessary to prevent some very serious and even fatal infectious diseases.

The official chart of vaccines for kids under age 6 is here:

And this is the chart for children from age 7 to 18:

You can read all the explanations and footnotes at the CDC website here.

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February 9, 2011

Governments plan to make polio a disease of the past

Two U.S. government agencies - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) - joined the World Health Organization WHO) and the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development to sign the global protocol of intent to eradicate polio wherever it occurs. The agreement also has the support of international charity organizations, such as Rotary International, and will reach out to communities throughout the world.

Polio has long been eradicated in North America due to successful vaccination programs, but outbreaks of this highly infectious crippling disease continue to occur in some central Asian and African countries. And because polio is extremely contagious, there is always a risk of it being transmitted to countries where it no longer exists or was thought to be eradicated, including the U.S. Since this poses a risk to unvaccinated children, the goal of the agreement is to eradicate all strains of polio.

Since 2006, only four countries - Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan - remain polio-endemic with indigenous poliovirus circulation. Additionally, in four African countries wild poliovirus was either known (Angola, Chad) or suspected (Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Sudan) to have persisted for for more than 12 months as of mid-2009, leading to their designation as having “re-established” transmission.

Unfortunately, the list does not end there, as the following countries have had imported polio cases or cases related to an imported poliovirus within the past 24 months: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ghana, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, Niger, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan and Uganda.

Source: USAID

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January 13, 2011

Discredited study linking MMR vaccine to autism used fraudulent data, report says

The conclusions of a 1998 study that appeared to link the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism were not only false but fraudulent, according to an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The original study, written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, reported on a dozen children, eight of whom were said to have developed gastrointestinal trouble and autism after receiving the MMR vaccine. The paper was published by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet and helped fuel an anti-vaccine movement that persuaded a significant number of parents in the U.S and Europe to shun childhood vaccinations, which in turn has led to an increasing number of outbreaks of mumps and measles.

Wakefield’s study was later renounced by 10 of its 13 authors. In February 2010, the Lancet retracted the 1998 article, and 3 months later, Wakefield and another physician author were stripped of their right to practice medicine in Britain. To date, no credible scientific evidence has clearly connected vaccines with autism or other developmental disorders

But vaccine critics remain skeptical, citing anecdotal evidence of a pattern of bad reactions in vaccinated children, including identical symptoms appearing in the same period. They contend that toxins used as additives and preservatives, and the number and timing of immunizations can cause developmental disabilities and other chronic health conditions in children with sensitive immune systems or genetic disorders.

The new examination of Wakefield's research alleges the British doctor and his colleagues falsified facts about the children. The allegations were made after comparing the reported diagnosis in the original paper with hospital records.

Among the more glaring new findings in the article, the first in a series on the Wakefield case by a British investigative reporter, is that hospital records show five of the 12 children studied had previously documented developmental problems, before they were vaccinated, though the original study reported all the children had developed normally until after they were vaccinated. In addition, behavioral problems that the original paper said appeared days after vaccination did not in fact appear for months in some of the children.


You can view the article in the British Medical Journal here.

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October 30, 2008

CDC: HPV and Cervical Cancer Vaccine is Perfectly Safe

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a statement out of its Immunization Safety Office saying that Gardasil, the vaccine designed to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer, is safe and should be given to girls starting at age 11 or 12.

The article notes that some political groups are frightened that the vaccine will encourage girls and young women to engage in sexual activities that the groups do not approve of, and apparently do not feel that saving these women's lives outweighs this risk. These political groups have been trying to claim that Gardasil is not safe or effective. But the CDC statement points out that a study of 370,000 vaccinations showed no evidence of a link to increased blood clots or other serious health problems, meaning that claims of Gardasil's dangers are counterfactual. From the article:

"The results are really reassuring," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the infectious diseases division at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "There's a public perception that the vaccine is not safe. This is important for countering negative information."

The article points out that there are almost 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer each year. Doctors hope that this vaccine will reduce the number of these deaths.

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October 1, 2008

Government Experts Urge Flu Vaccination For Infants

Until recently, public health officials only recommended flu vaccinations for children two years old or older.

But now, as flu season approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that babies as young as six months get the vaccine.

From the article:

The flu vaccine is recommended for people 50 years and over, people with certain chronic medical conditions, people in nursing homes, pregnant women, and children 6 months to 18 years old unless they have a serious egg allergy. The vaccine is also recommended for health workers, and anyone in close contact with infants or others at-risk.

For further information, go to and check out the links about the flu.

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March 28, 2008

Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Leads to Public Health Risk

A small but growing number of parents across the U.S. refuse to vaccinate their kids, doubting the efficacy and safety of the vaccines.

The article suggests an intriguing reason for these refusals:

It is the absence, or close to it, of some illnesses in the United States that keep some parents from opting for the shots. Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.”

Most of these concerns, however, are unfounded: the safety risk of most vaccines are negligible. And failing to vaccinate not only puts the non-vaccinated child at risk, but also his or her playmates. Even effective vaccines do not work 100% of the time, so a vaccinated child is not necessarily protected from his or her non-vaccinated friends.

For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fact sheet on common vaccinations.

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January 11, 2008

Experimental Vaccine May Guard Against Meningitis in Infants

Babies under the age of one are especially susceptible to meningitis. They have the highest rates of infection, but the currently-existing vaccine cannot be used on them. It is restricted to children over two.

However, an experimental vaccine called Menveo may be effective in these infants. Here is what experts have to say about it:

The vaccine was about 94% effective when given in four doses, one at 2 months, 3 months, 4 months and 12 months — a dosing schedule that fits into standard vaccination programs in the U.K., says study author Matthew Snape, a pediatrician at the University of Oxford.

When given in three doses, one each at 2 months, 4 months and 12 months — the standard pattern for shots in the USA — the vaccine was 86% to 100% effective, providing more protection against some strains of the bacteria than others, Snape says.

If approved, a meningococcal vaccine could prevent half of the roughly 300 cases of meningococcal meningitis in babies under 2, says Amanda Cohn, a pediatrician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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November 16, 2007

Recent Study Shows Value of Vaccines for Children

Thirteen childhood diseases for which we have vaccines are causing fewer deaths than ever, according to a new study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Deaths and hospitalizations from smallpox, diphtheria and polio have gone down one hundred percent since vaccines against them were approved. Deaths and hospitalizations from nine of the diseases have gone down ninety percent, and only in only four diseases (all of which have vaccines that were approved only recently and thus have had less time to take effect in the population) did they go down less than ninety percent. Those four diseases were hepatitis A and B, varicella and invasive pneumococcal diseases.

This is a striking demonstration of the value of vaccinating children--a practice that is sometimes controversial, as many parents oppose it either for religious reasons or because of skepticism about its efficacy. Hopefully studies like these will address some of that skepticism and promote the use of vaccines in preventing deadly diseases.

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