Vaccines

All Articles in the Category ‘Vaccines’

Pediatricians Who Refuse Families Who Don’t Immunize

I just responded to a New York Times “Armchair Ethicist” chat about pediatricians who refuse patients who don’t fully immunize. I realized my comment on their site belongs here on the blog. (my comment is number 79 but also copied below).

What do you think about pediatricians who refuse patients who don’t follow the AAP schedule? Do you disagree with me? Would you be more comfortable seeing a pediatrician who refused those families who chose not to immunize to protect your children? Have you, or someone you know, ever been kicked out of a pediatrician’s practice?

I’m a pediatrician (w a master’s degree in bioethics) and mother to 2. I will always keep my practice open to vaccine-hesitant families. However, the waiting room risk (unimmunized kids & risk to vulnerable populations–ie infants, those too young for vaccines, and immunocompromised children) is a good one and the only compelling reason to close to patients who refuse immunizations in my opinion.

But it’s not a good enough reason for me to send families away who have questions and hesitations about the AAP/CDC schedule. All children deserve a pediatrician versed in immunization benefit/risk & deserve an expert in conversation w their parents to foster insight & understanding. Frankly, if waiting room risk is the concern, there are ways to create separate waiting rooms for kids “up to date” and kids who are not.

Great thing is, only about 10% of families use alternative vaccine schedules. In a recent Pediatrics article, only 2% of families who used alternative schedules refused all vaccine altogether. So although this is a large issue in pediatrics and parenting, the majority of families do vaccinate on time or nearly on time. I don’t want to lose sight of that.

I practice in WA State. We lead the nation in exemptions for vaccines (over 10% of kids w exemptions vs only 2% nationally) and have recently put into place a law that requires families to consult with a health care provider prior to an exemption. It was designed to avoid exemptions out of convenience. This hopefully opens up the opportunities for discussions with parents & pediatricians!

We all want the same thing: healthy children, healthy communities. Fostering conversation and diminishing a context of “war” or opposition about immunizations is an important step. In my experience, most parents end up immunizing their children over time even when they start out as refusers. The group of full refusers is fairly small. So allowing all kids into my practice feels like a great opportunity.

What Is The Tdap Shot? Seattle Mama Doc 101

Tdap is a shot necessary for all adults and children starting at age 11 that protects against infections caused by Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Because of increasing reports of Whooping Cough and increased infant deaths in the last 2 years, we are working hard to protect infants, children, adolescents and adults from Whooping Cough (caused by Pertussis). Most importantly we want to protect our newborn babies from being exposed or contracting whooping cough. Whooping cough is most dangerous and most devastating (occasionally fatal) for newborn babies (under 2 months of age) and infants under the age of 6 months. If you are around a newborn baby it’s essential you’ve had a Tdap shot at least once as an adult. Watch the video for more.

Keep in mind, even fully vaccinated adults can get pertussis. If you are caring for infants or young children, check with your health care provider about what’s best for your situation.

What is Whooping Cough & How is it Treated (Link)?

WHEN TO CALL THE PEDIATRICIAN: Pertussis infection starts out acting like a cold. You should consider the possibility of whooping cough if the following conditions are present:

  • The child is a very young infant who has not been fully immunized and/or has had exposure to someone with a chronic cough or the disease.
  • The child’s cough becomes more severe and frequent, or her lips and fingertips become dark or blue.
  • She becomes exhausted after coughing episodes, eats poorly, vomits after coughing, and/or looks “sick.”

How To Protect Your Family From Whooping Cough

  • The best way to prevent Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is to get vaccinated.
  • Children 7 to 10 years old who did not have their full DTP/DTaP series (2,4,6, and 15 months shots) need a Tdap shot.
  • Children with either an unknown or incomplete shot record/history before age 7 years of age need a Tdap shot.
  • All adolescents with an up-to-date record need the Tdap shot at the 11 year old well child check-up/visit.
  • Anyone over age 11 who has not previously received Tdap – when indicated.
  • There’s no minimum interval between Td and Tdap vaccines. Meaning, if you for some reason had a Td (“tetanus booster”) in the last few years, you still need a Tdap now to protect against whooping cough(Pertussis). No 5-10 year interval is required between the shot.
  • Vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria fades with time, so adults need a booster shot. Experts recommend adults receive a Td booster every 10 years and substitute a Tdap vaccine for one of the boosters.
  • Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for adults who are around infants – new parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies, and health care providers.

AAP Policy Statement on Using Tdap to prevent Pertussis

CDC: Protecting your family from whooping cough (Pertussis)

Most Parents Avoid Alternative Vaccination Schedules

I see this as a glass half-full, glass half-empty issue. Yesterday, a study was published in Pediatrics detailing research conducted in May of 2010 about parents’ preferences to use alternative vaccination schedules versus following the recommended CDC vaccination schedule. The majority of the media coverage focused on the finding that over 10% of parents followed a schedule other than the one recommended by the CDC. Not perfect and not ideal from a public health stand point. Yet, of course, the other way to see this is that nearly 90% of parents did follow the physician-recommended schedule. That’s a pretty good success rate for doctors.

As a pediatrician practicing in Washington State, I saw this study half-full. As I read through the methods, results, and discussion, I took notes on the cover page. I actually made that little doodle. I couldn’t help but think about the nearly 90% of families (87%) who followed the recommended schedule to protect their children and their communities. Clearly 87% is not 100% (I get that) and it leaves our communities and our children at risk, but I believe we can continue to improve trust with ongoing education.

Focusing on the group that does vaccinate their children on the schedule may be a good strategy to understanding where we can improve our communication about the benefits of vaccination. We often focus on the group that doesn’t vaccinate but we miss insight from those of us who do immunize our children on the schedule.

Details: The study was conducted on over 2000 respondents, where 771 families qualified by reporting having a child between 6 months and 6 years of age. They were asked if they followed the CDC schedule and then if they didn’t, they were asked to answer a series of closed-ended questions regarding the nitty gritty of the schedule they used. Parents’ age, gender, race/ethnicity, and level of education and family insurance were collected.

Glass Half Full Findings: Read full post »

It’s Time For A Flu Shot

Why To Get A Flu Shot (Cliff Notes):

Influenza causes more hospitalizations than any other vaccine-preventable illness. It’s not just kids at risk for complications (asthmatics, diabetics, children with complex heart disease or immune problems) that die from the flu. Nearly 1/2 the children who died in this last year in the US were well, healthy children. PREVENT influenza, get a flu shot for all the members of your family. Although the flu vaccine dose is the same as last year, it’s recommended we all get a dose this season. For children who didn’t have a dose last year under the age of 9: they need 2 doses this year, separated by 1 month.

Links worth reviewing:

10 Things To Know About Influenza

www.flu.gov

Seasonal Influenza 2011-2012 from the AAP

Summary describing CDC data on complications and deaths from Influenza this past year

Flu Information from Seattle Childrens

ERRATA: I said that 46% of all children who died between Aug 2010 and Aug 2011 were healthy kids. The correct number is even higher: 49% of the 115 children who died in the US were healthy children without significant flu risks. My apologies.

HPV Vaccine Safety

The current conversation about HPV vaccine is a perfect example that anecdotes about health are powerful. My belief: anecdotes with evidence can be more powerful.

I am going to write a series of blog posts about HPV virus and HPV vaccine. Please tell me what you want to know. What questions do you have about HPV vaccine safety? What concerns do you have about HPV virus in girls and boys, women and men? What can I clarify? I plan to write stories from my own practice, interview adolescent medicine experts, and talk with pediatric vaccine researchers. Who else should I talk to?

In clinic, I recommend HPV vaccine to girls at their 11-year visit. I talk about the shot yearly thereafter with girls and their parents if they haven’t completed the series. Boys can also get HPV vaccine (HPV4) to prevent genital warts. One of the most challenging parts of protecting girls (and boys) from HPV virus is completing all 3 shots in the series. In Washington State for example, over 69% of our girls have received the first HPV shot, but only 45% have completed all three.

For starters, here is a link from the CDC summarizing questions about HPV vaccine safety: HPV Vaccine Safety

And here’s a statement from the AAP about HPV vaccine in the news:

The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. That’s because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it’s important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity. In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.

Varicella Vaccine: It Works

I don’t diagnose Chickenpox often. I’ve seen patients with Chickenpox only a handful of times since I started medical school in 1998. Auspiciously, there simply haven’t been many children to serve as my teachers. Varicella virus causes Chickenpox and there’s a vaccine for that. So, like Smallpox or Polio, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about Chickenpox in textbooks. My strongest professor in the Chickenpox department is my own memory; I had Varicella between the age of 5 and 6 years. It was the one week of my childhood where I remember being really babied– my mom gave me a small gift or craft every day while I was home from school. I got to watch TV on the couch. I must have looked pretty awful…But it wasn’t so bad and I was lucky. I was a healthy 5 year old girl who had a case of chicken pox that was “run of the mill”: lots of spots, lots of itching, a week of fever and feeling crummy. Then poof, I scabbed over and got better. The only remaining trace (besides the virus that may live in my nerves) is the scar on my L forehead. You seen it?

The big trouble with Chickenpox is you can’t predict which child will have a serious complication (a brain infection, an overgrowth of flesh eating bacteria in the sores, or a life-threatening pneumonia).

While I was finishing up college, the Varicella vaccination was introduced into the United States. At that time, over 150 people died every year from Chickenpox and over 11,000 people were hospitalized annually. This created a huge economic toll (from missed work to health care costs).

So my apparent lack of clinical opportunity with Chickenpox reflects reality. A study published this week found that over the last 12 years there has been a 97% reduction in deaths from Chickenpox in children and adolescents younger than 20 years of age. There’s been an 88% reduction of Chickenpox deaths over all (kids plus adults). These are staggering statistics. Read full post »

Speak Up, Share Your Values About The Vaccine Schedule

Ever wonder how the CDC makes the vaccine schedule? For example, how they decide when to start a dosing series (at birth versus a year of age versus age 11) or why pediatricians and other clinicians recommend the number of shots that we do?

Ever want to let them know your thoughts about how the schedule feels to you and what values you feel should contribute to changes?

This is your moment. For real. Read full post »

2 Questions For School On Community Immunity?

My phone wasn’t working well today so I stood in line at the “genius” bar this afternoon to resolve the problem. To be clear, that was 2 1/2 hours ago and I’m home with the promise from a very nice genius that it would be activated by the time I reached my home. It didn’t happen and I’m phoneless (a new thing for me) so it’s quiet around here. In lieu of being able to communicate by phone, I’ll share something I learned while waiting for help. It turns out to have shaped my thoughts for the afternoon.

While at the store, I ran into a researcher who works at the interface of vaccine hesitancy and immunization rates. We got to talking about his work, my writing and work in clinic, and what will ultimately help families. I mentioned what I really want is for families to get good information from their pediatricians (online and off) so when they immunize their children, they rest easy knowing that their children are protected. He asked a question, well two questions, that I didn’t have the answer to in my own life. I wonder, do you? Read full post »

Pile On The Paperwork: Vaccine Exemption In WA State

I’m happy about a new pile of paperwork coming my way. To be clear, I’ve never said this before. But I’m serious. Instead of stewing controversy, I suspect a new bill around here could open up lines of communication. I’m not living under a rock; I understand that some feel this new bill requiring signatures for vaccine exemption is heavy handed. I wholeheartedly disagree.

Yesterday Governor Gregoire signed a new bill into law that will demand families talk with a health care worker about the risks when exempting from immunizations. It turns out, WA state lags in their vaccination rates compared to national averages. In the last 10 years there has been a doubling in the number of students with exemptions for vaccinations in our schools. The biggest reason may be a convenience factor. The state suggests that 95% of exemptions are not for a medical reason, but one for convenience. Seems like you’d never opt out of immunizations for convenience putting your child or another child at risk. Right? But then think about how nuts your life is, how chaotic it is to raise children, and work, and pay bills and and and….

Imagine this: you’re a busy mom/dad, your child is about to start Kindergarten or 6th grade. The records you have for their immunizations are incomplete. You didn’t keep the book and like me and everyone else, your paper work isn’t filed perfectly. You’re pretty sure your child is “up to date.” You’re standing at registration at the school. You’ve been waiting in line and your left heel hurts. Come to think of it, your head hurts, too. Your daughter just tugged on your pant leg; she’s hungry. Quickly, when you realize you’ve got an incomplete record, you call your daughter’s doctor office while still in line. No one picks up when you call and you’re put in a queue waiting to talk with someone in medical records. You have a choice, would you rather just sign your name, exempting your child from vaccines, or go on a hunt for the records to ensure your child truly is up to date? Sure, the answer for most any parent is clear.

You sign your name. Read full post »

Influenza: Still Time For A Flu Shot


It’s not too late to protect yourself and your family from influenza. Influenza peaks during February and March in the United States. Now is the time to be vigilant in protecting against and preventing the spread, of flu. Washing your hands, staying home from work/school, and covering your cough can be incredible steps. BUT:

The most effective way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated. If you haven’t had a flu shot, get one this week. Your child can be immunized if over 6 months of age, and remember that many children under age 9 will need a second dose (booster shot). Read about how to determine if your child needs a second dose <—-here.

10 Things To Know About Influenza:

  1. Influenza peaks in February and March in the United States. Look at the CDC data that reflects ongoing influenza activity
  2. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community from the flu.
  3. Children under age 5 are at higher risk from complications from the flu. Children under age 2 are at even higher risk. Children with asthma and with some underlying medical conditions are at high risk as well.
  4. Pregnant women are at exceptionally high risk from influenza and complications from the infection due to changes in their immune, cardiac, and pulmonary (lungs) systems. While pregnant women make up only 1% of the US population, they accounted for 5% of the country’s deaths from H1N1 (Swine flu) in 2009. All pregnant women are recommended to get a flu shot. However we know that only about 30% of moms are immunized at the time of delivery. The bonus of protecting themselves? New research shows how vaccinating pregnant women protects babies. When moms protect themselves by getting flu shot, they also prevent spreading flu to their babies. Babies born to vaccinated moms have a lower risk of flu (and hospitalization) under 6 months of age when they are too young to get the flu vaccine.
  5. The best way to protect a newborn baby from the flu is to have all caregivers (parents, grandparents, nannies) get the flu shot.
  6. People can spread the flu to others before they even now they’re sick. People also spread the infection after they have had it; they can continue to spread flu for 5-7 days in mucus, sneezes, and cough. The best way to protect yourself is to get a flu shot, and second to that: wash you hands, cover your cough, and stay home from school or work when sick with fever and cold symptoms.
  7. Each year 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized with flu or complications of the flu. 11 children died from influenza during the week of January 30-Feb 5th in the United states.
  8. Although flu is reported as widespread in 37 states, nearly all areas have circulating flu right now. See the most recent CDC data on influenza around the country.
  9. Overall flu vaccination rates are less than 50% for people under 65 years of age. To best protect our communities, vaccination coverage rates should be about 90%. We’re not there. Immunizing yourself and your family protects those who are too sick (or too young) to get the flu shot and are also at higher risk of complications.
  10. Flu shots for children under age 3 do not have thimerosal. Nasal Flumist doesn’t have thimeroal. Read National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) page on mercury in vaccines. I don’t believe you need to find a thimerosal-free flu shot.