Vaccines

All Articles in the Category ‘Vaccines’

It’s Time For Flu Shots

Please don’t tune me out on this one. Don’t let this post resemble Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoon where you only hear, “Blah, blah, blah, Flu shot, blah, blah, blah, Flu shot, blah, blah, blah”

I write about flu every year because it’s one infectious disease that is not only more aggressive and dangerous for babies and young children, it’s vaccine preventable. The flu causes high fever, terrible cough, body aches, and significant discomfort. It can also potentially cause more serious infections like pneumonia. Unlike viruses that cause the common cold (rhinovirus or RSV), we have a vaccine for influenza.

I’ve had multiple patients in only 7 years of pediatric practice refuse the flu shot and subsequently get influenza. A few of my patients have required hospitalization for influenza and several have had serious infections requiring multiple visits to clinic, ER trips, and respiratory distress. Whenever this happens in an unvaccinated patient, I feel I’ve failed.

The great news with flu is that we can improve protection for our children and teens easily. The majority of the 150+ children who died last year from flu in this country were not vaccinated. And although it’s true that the vaccine doesn’t protect 100% of those who get it, it does protect most from life-threatening illness. Getting a flu shot is the #1 best way to prevent a life-threatening infection from the flu.

It’s flu shot season. You thinking, “blah, blah, blah…?”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a new policy statement out this month. Their big message is to get all children up to date on their flu shots as early as possible. Read full post »

Simply Not Factual

No-SymbolSimply not factual. That’s really all that needs to be said in response to Michael Edwards’ opinion piece entitled “Vaccine Side Effects and Why You Shouldn’t Vaccinate” published in Organic Lifestyle Magazine last week. This is clearly a non-peer reviewed, non-fact-checked online publication that Mr Edwards edits and owns. Fortunately, the magazine is reported to get about the same amount of traffic as my blog so it’s not exactly the Washington Post…

That being said, Edwards’ piece is so egregious I’m unable to hold my breath. Although I’m no watchdog, the dangerous writing demands physician attention partly because it’s been published amidst a noteworthy week in the world of vaccine misinformation:

  1. A segment aired last week by a local TV station in Las Vegas claimed doctors debating a need for vaccines. The TV station reported false information and misrepresented a chiropractor as a “holistic physician.” There was a noted uproar online, especially when original comments from physicians were, at first, taken down. Here’s more from news watchdog Gary Schwitzer, “Back To School Anti Vaccination Woo.”
  2. Mr. Edwards published false information claiming families shouldn’t vaccinate. More below.
  3. Jenny McCarthy’s credibility erodes further as it’s announced she is now advertising e-cigarettes. A pediatric colleague wrote a blog post entitled, “Jenny McCarthy continues tireless crusade to kill us all.”

Back to the piece in “Organic Lifestyle” though. What is so dangerous is not just Mr. Edwards’ misinformation but the way his article appears to the eye. Mr. Edwards published his vaccine opinion in a structure that misleads a reader to believe it’s based in fact. There are sections with headers, subtitles with supposed historical reference, and a list of resources at the end. All the while Mr Edwards warps truth and paints a picture of a fictitious world—one where those diseases now eradicated (small pox) or nearly so (polio) thanks to vaccines, aren’t.

Small pox has been eradicated by worldwide vaccination and thanks to vaccines married with a remarkable commitment from the Gates Foundation, polio is nearly gone too. Read full post »

Your Social Network, Your Kids’ Vaccines

network

We live in a profoundly different time today when it comes to caregiving, parenting, and gaining health care/advice than we did even 5 or 10 years ago. The internet has changed things dramatically. During an interview recently a reporter asked, “You were raised on digital media, yes?”  Well, no. I didn’t started using email until late 1995 just prior to leaving college, didn’t get a cell phone until I was teaching, didn’t have a working computer in my apartment until I started my master’s degree (after med school), and didn’t join social media until 2008. It was bedrest with my second pregnancy that urged the establishment of a profile on Facebook. That online community changed everything.

I’m no digital native but I may act like one.

My husband, my friends, and the doctors I’ve chosen to help me raise my boys certainly do color my belief about the world. So do the things I read and watch online.

There has been 3 measles cases in Seattle this July and 58 cases of measles in Brooklyn, NY since March. Measles is preventable with a very effective vaccine. The vaccine is so good that after 2 doses of the MMR shot, over 99% of people are protected against measles for life. However, often our community shapes our decisions to vaccinate…

An insightful Pediatrics study and accompanying editorial published earlier this year illuminate the reality that social networks carry big weight for parents making decisions about immunizations. We do make decisions in the context of our lives and the social network we choose to use as a sounding board really does help us determine what to do in moments of confusion. Read full post »

Measles In Seattle

There is a report of more measles here in Seattle. Measles is a highly contagious and potentially severe infection that causes fever, rash, cough, and red, watery eyes. It is mainly spread through the air after a person with measles coughs or sneezes. King County Public Health released information today detailing new cases and potential places for public exposure to measles infections between July 9th & July 15th. These two new cases are unrelated to the measles case earlier this month in a traveler at the Sea-Tac airport. Much of the information here is thanks to the public health department.

Local public health officials have confirmed measles infections in two siblings, an adult and a child, who were in several public locations during the time that they were contagious. The siblings have been visiting from out of state and public health officials believe that they acquired measles outside of Washington State.

Locations where possible exposures may have occurred:

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Read full post »

Jenny On The View

450px-Jenny_McCarthy_Addresses_AudienceJenny McCarthy is officially joining The View. “Do I have opinions?” one reporter asked today. Yup.

My concerns center around Jenny McCarthy’s past willingness to trade-in her experience for expertise. That is, she widely shared her theories and anecdotes about her son’s experience with learning challenges and falsely placed blame on vaccines for his then-diagnosed autism. I will not discount her private experience. What I discount is her decision to leverage a modeling/pornography career to message about health. She aligned herself with pseudoscience. She mistook “mommy instinct” for fact. She partnered with the debunked Andrew Wakefield and has been an ardent spokesperson for Generation Rescue. She directed families away from life-saving vaccines and pointed them towards costly and unproven treatments like chelation for learning and behavioral challenges. In sum, she created fear.

She created myths around “greening” vaccines, a concept that lives on today and make very little sense.

Her myth (stating the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism) has potentially increased disease burden. Outbreaks of measles in Europe have overwhelmed France and Wales in the past few years and under-vaccinated communities persist here in the US. In part, this is because of Jenny’s megaphone.

The auspicious truth is when Andrew Wakefield was debunked her fervor slowed. I hear less about Jenny McCarthy in the exam room these days. She’s retreated from the vaccine discussion. Trouble is, I still hear about the myth she methodically created. Some families remain scared and confused about true benefits/risks when it comes to life-saving vaccines. I’m angry she’s made so many parents falter. Read full post »

Modern Parenthood, Vaccines, And Myth With Mnookin

panicThis Tuesday evening, I’m joining Seth Mnookin at Town Hall in Seattle to discuss vaccines, modern parenthood, and (mis)information about vaccinations online. Although you may know Seth Mnookin secondary to his crucial role in the Boston Marathon Bombings story this past week, at his other day job he’s the co-director of the graduate program in science writing at MIT. He’ll be here in Seattle because he is also the author of a powerful book, Panic Virus, that details the history of vaccine hesitancy in the US.

A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear.

Although the book sits on the nonfiction shelf, it reads like a thriller. Think Contagion meets John le Carre´.  I’m not exaggerating here: when I first read the book 2 years ago, I pulled a near-all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down. I don’t think that’s because I’m a pediatrician, I believe I couldn’t put it down because I’m a mom.

I met Seth nearly 2 years ago and he signed my scribbled-in copy of his extraordinary book. Panic Virus changed my understanding of vaccine hesitancy. There are parts of the book that caused my stomach to drop and certainly parts of the book that made me worry. Read full post »

A Voice For Vaccines

Karen ErnstThis is a guest blog from Karen Ernst. Karen is the mother of three boys and a military wife.  She sometimes teaches English and enjoys advocating for and working with children. She is the co-leader of Voices for Vaccines and one of the founders of the Minnesota Childhood Immunization Coalition.


The preschool class party was one of the last hurrahs for my then five year old. The entire family attended, including our ten-day old newborn, whose only interest was nursing. His lack of other interests turned out to be good fortune because another mother-son duo at the party were contagious with chicken pox and began showing symptoms the day after the party. Had the mother held my newborn or the child played with him, the results could have been fatal for our son.

Having immunized my older child, who played with his contagious friend, I was relieved that no one in our home contracted chicken pox and no one passed it on to our new baby.

While I was angry when the mother revealed that she’d purposely left her son unvaccinated against chicken pox, I felt proud that I had chosen well, I had protected both my children, and I had understood and agreed with what public health officials had proposed: that children need the varicella vaccine. I had both done what I was supposed to, and nothing bad happened. So that’s the end of the story, right?

Read full post »

Chickenpox Parties

pox party de-identifiedToday a Seattle mom advertised on an online parenting community that both of her children had chickenpox and then invited (non-vaccinated) children over for exposure. That’s the invite from 1:19pm today.

It turns out people are still having chickenpox parties.

Part of this makes my head spin. I just don’t get it, despite having had many families in my practice decline or hesitate or delay the chickenpox shot. I don’t think parents know what virus they are dealing with. After I posted this invitation on Twitter, I had physicians all over the country sharing stories (some included below).

Chickenpox can cause serious infection complications and rarely it can be lethal. Before the vaccine was approved and put into use in 1995, hundreds of children and adults died in this country every year from chickenpox and thousands were hospitalized. Although most young children get chickenpox and recover (only left with pox or scars) some children develop life-threatening secondary infections. Some children develop severe pneumonia (1 in 1000 children), some develop brain infections, and some children develop flesh-eating bacterial infections in their scabs that can even be fatal.

There is a safe, highly effective vaccine for chickenpox: Varicella Vaccine.

After I saw the pox party invite this afternoon I became slightly enraged. I mean, there are NUMEROUS children and adults in our community immunosuppressed and/or on chemo that could develop life-ending complications if exposed to varicella. And some families are intentionally exposing their children to a potentially harmful infection. After 2 doses of the chickenpox shot (varicella) 99% of patients are immune to chickenpox. Although some children can get chicken pox once vaccinated, they typically only have a few pox and do not develop severe side effects or die.

The pox party just shows me how much work we have to do to build trust in vaccines and vaccine-safety. My boys have both had 2 doses of the varicella vaccine. I’m thrilled they are protected and unlikely to ever get chickenpox or spread it to a community member who could be more at risk. They likely won’t get shingles, either.

Chickenpox Facts & Stats:

  • Varicella shots hurt upon injection (children tell me it really stings). We give the shot twice, once at 1 year of age and once at 4 years of age. The shot can commonly cause arm soreness and lowgrade fever. In less than 5% of children, a small rash develops, often around the site of the shot. That’s a good sign the immune system is being triggered to fight off future infections. The rash that can develop after the shot is not contagious. Read full post »

Parents May Hesitate On Teen Vaccines

Since 2005, teen immunizations have been recommended at the 11 year-old well child check-up but rates of teens who keep up to date on their shots lag. In an ideal community, 90% of us would be up to date on shots to prevent disease spread most effectively.  Back in 2007, teen recommendations were expanded to include HPV vaccine for girls. In 2011, both boys and girls were recommended to get HPV shots. Although the majority of teens get the Tdap shot (tetanus and whooping cough booster) only around 1/3 of teen girls are up-to-date on their HPV shot when most recently surveyed.

Teen Shots Recommend at age 11:

  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis shot)
  • MCV4 (meningitis shot)
  • HPV (human papillomavirus shot, requires 3 doses over 6 months)

A Pediatrics Study on teen shots revealed that parents may not get their teen shots due to concerns about safety or not understanding the shot was recommended. Not all shots are required by schools; I think some families tend to experience that as an endorsement for the shot being less important. In the survey conducted between 2008-2010, researchers sought to understand trends and rationale for lagging shots: Read full post »

2013 Immunization Update

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 7.03.42 AMNew immunization recommendations come out every February. They’re released to assist parents and clinicians in keeping all children up to date and protected from life-threatening infections. The update reflects new science and discoveries, while improving the schedule of vaccines due to outbreaks of infection or improved understandings of how to protect children better amidst a potential resurgence.

This is relevant to every parent: every year the rules for what-children-need-which-shots-when can change. Just when we think all of our children are “up to date,” new science evolves that potentially changes their immunization status. For example, read about new information published this year for the Tdap shot–how & why our children’s immunity fades.

We have to do our best to avoid making false promises to children about “not needing a shot” when they go in to see the doctor.  Just when we do, we find our child is due for a necessary booster or missed vaccine. Commonly, children are missing the last shot in a series of immunizations (for example, to protect children and teens from HPV, they need 3 total shots or children haven’t had the second chicken pox shot). In my opinion, the promises broken break trust with our children and amp fear around going to the doctor. Much of the anguish around shots is the anticipation of them. So an update…

2013 Immunization Recommendations And Reminders:

  • This 2013 immunization recommendations have been simplified into one chart for all children from birth to age 18 (used to be 2 charts). It details  the timing for shots and the necessary intervals between doses for all children. The detailed footnote section explains rationale for all the rules. In my opinion the 2013 schedule is easier to read and easier to understand.
  • Tdap for every pregnant woman, every pregnancy: the biggest change to the schedule is the recommendation that all pregnant women get a Tdap shot (protecting against tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis or “whooping cough”) in the 2nd half of each and every pregnancy. This recommendation was made due to surges in whooping cough infections, epidemics, and a 50-year high in positive cases. Because whooping cough is most risky to newborns we want pregnant women protected. Ninety percent of those who die from whooping cough are infants. The strategy to vaccinate during every pregnancy takes into count how quickly protection from the vaccine fades after we get it. And the reality the vaccine isn’t 100% effective. About 80% of those who get it are protected. The best way to protect us all is to have all children and adults up to date on their Tdap. Read full post »