Vaccines

All Articles in the Category ‘Vaccines’

Do You Believe in Vaccines: (Part II: Evidence)

I asked a group of 33 pediatricians what they would say to the question, “Do you believe in vaccines?” while standing in line for coffee. I asked for their help in thinking about an effective, 2 minute answer.

This is part 2 in a series. For detailed information behind the why, read part I (emotional responses) or watch the video explaining how this came to be. As I said, I’m not a believer in scripts. I’m not attempting to suggest there is one, 2 minute segment for every family that will help. Part of the reason I started this blog was that in practice, I realized when I told families what I knew and learned in training, they listened. When I told them what I did for my own children and how I felt, they made decisions. Telling my story seemed essential.

(This is going to sound familiar) I don’t want to increase the divide between those parents who are worried or skeptical of the possible harms of immunization, and those parents, doctors, and experts and who believe in the benefits. Rather, I want to regain our similarities.

Today I’ve included responses from pediatricians that mentioned things that I experienced as “evidenced.” But rather than talk to you about numbers, causality, rates of autism, and the absence of thimerisol in all childhood vaccines (except multi-dose flu shots), these comments focus on the evidence that helps physicians discuss immunizations with families. There was a paucity of numbers in the responses from these physicians.

Dr Gayle Smith (@MDPartner), a general pediatrician in Richmond, VA says it best:

I’d say how much I wished pediatricians were better ‘rock stars’ with our message of prevention so we could be more effective in the media limelight.  I’d speak my own willingness to touch the hearts of the families I care for, to carry the bag of fear and worry for them, perhaps lessening their load a bit. Read full post »

Do You Believe In Vaccines? (Part I: Emotion)

I wrote 33 pediatricians an e-mail asking what they would say, while in line for coffee, to the parent of a newborn when asked if they “believed in vaccines.”  I wrote the e-mail not as a gimmick or a way to frame the issue of vaccine hesitancy, but because this happened to me. Rather, this happens to me. Often. When a new father asked me this question while carrying his newborn baby 2 weeks ago, I told him what I thought.  I then ruminated about my response for 24+ hours and wrote a group of colleagues. How do we talk with parents we don’t know, outside of the exam room, to help them understand why we feel so strongly about protecting children with vaccines?

I’m not a believer in scripts. I’m not attempting to suggest there is one, 2 minute segment for every family that will help. I wanted to hear what these expert pediatricians would say to get a sense of their collective insight. I wanted you to see it, as well.  I want to be really good at my job as a pediatrician when helping families understand the science, the evidence, and the emotion behind raising healthy kids and preventing illness with vaccines.

But I also really want families to understand why pediatricians work so hard to vaccinate children. I don’t want to increase the divide between those parents who are worried or skeptical of the possible harms of immunization, and those parents, doctors, and experts and who believe in the benefits. Rather, I want to regain our similarities.

We are all so similar.

We all want to do what is right for our children.  That’s why everyone is so nuts about this. Simply stated, we all care immensely.

This was confirmed when I wrote docs from all parts of the US. I got over 20 responses.

I’ve arranged these pediatricians’ thoughts based on how I experienced their comments:

  • Emotional
  • Evidenced
  • Experienced

These thoughts are not mutually exclusive; you’ll hear evidence in the emotional comments, experience in the evidenced ones, and emotion in the experienced ones. Today’s post includes responses that felt emotional.

As I said in the video, it isn’t just parents who are emotional about vaccines. Read the comments to that post and you’ll see—some 30+ comments, mostly written by pediatricians, full of energy, data, and emotion. Pediatricians (and scientists/public health experts) are ultimately responsible for improving the way families understand immunizations. So this is weighty.

Emotional:

Most of these doctors wrote me about listening more than about talking.  But here’s some of what they said:

Dr David Hill, a pediatrician in North Carolina wrote:

Boy is this an issue on all of our minds! For me this question has particular poignancy, as we all watched our partner’s (a pediatrician) 22-year-old daughter die of H1N1 last year. To see her face-down on a ventilator, bloated and pale and then to have a parent tell me, as one did last week, ‘Everyone knows the flu vaccine causes just as much disease as it prevents.’

Gulp. His response to that parent’s viewpoint: Read full post »

Two Minutes To Represent Vaccines?

Last Friday I was in line for a coffee and met a newborn baby. Her father asked me if “I believed in vaccines.” I answered him (hint: I do). But then I got to thinking…how could I have done it better? I wrote some friends…

6 Tips For Successful Shot Visits

Getting shots, or the pain and fear associated with them, is one frustrating association children have with seeing their doctor. There are some ways to make this better. Diminishing shot anxiety is a huge goal for parents and pediatricians. If expectations are clear, everyone can leave a visit after shots feeling more successful.

  1. Prepare: Do your best to prepare yourself for a visit where there will be shots. Bring your husband/wife/partner, friend, or relative with you for support. If you act or feel nervous, your child may pick up on this. Even infants pick up on nervous cues. It is well known that parental behavior influences the amount of pain and distress from shots. In one 1995 study, 53% of the variance in child distress during immunizations was accounted for by maternal behavior. Geesh! So, if you’re freaking out, your child may be influenced. A Pediatrics review article in 2007 found that excessive parental reassurance, criticism, or apology seems to increase distress, whereas humor and distraction tend to decrease distress. First shots for new parents are often nerve-wracking. Layer your support and tell your pediatrician you’re nervous so they can provide reassurance and support. Bring a new toy for your child, plan a joke ahead of time. Scripting may truly help.
  2. Distraction: Use distraction whenever possible. Squeeze your child’s hand during shots, sing songs together, blow on your baby’s face, or talk about plans you have later in the day during the injection. Discuss your favorite spots or places you’ve been together. Also, consider the “cough trick.”  A study in Pediatrics out earlier this year found that children (age 4-6 and age 11-13) who were coached to cough during the injection experienced less pain from the shot. Read full post »

Understanding Immunizations

It’s my true fortune that I spend the majority of my days with children–my patients and my own. But as a mom in the year 2010, I find I worry a lot. As a pediatrician, my job is to reassure. My experiences with these divergent, and then entirely interwoven roles, converge at one issue in particular: immunizations.

The reality is, we live in a vaccine-hesitant world. With my patients, my friends, and even my family, I hear many myths about vaccines. I hear truths, too. Mostly, I feel and witness worry. When it comes to getting shots, most everyone wants to know a little more. There’s no doubt that the things we read online and in the paper, or the mutterings we hear on the news and in line at the grocery store, have left us frightened about immunizations. I remember the fearful stories more than the reassuring ones. Don’t you?

Despite this worry, I believe that alongside the challenge of overweight/obesity, hesitancy about shots may be the biggest issues facing children, parents, and pediatricians today. I spend more minutes (hours) per day with vaccine-hesitant families than I ever imagined I would. So this is a part of my every day. But hold on a minute, this is not a post about the “rights” of doctors or vaccines or the “wrongs” of another group. This is a blog post to help illuminate your right to earnest, research-based information regarding immunizations. You need to have compassionate care rooted in scientific evidence; you need to know what science holds. What I mean is, you have a right to really understand why doctors recommend immunizations.

Vaccines are discussed nearly everywhere by nearly everyone. As a parent, be selective about what you read and with whom you discuss these issues. Not everyone at the water cooler has expertise in this area. And not everyone understands the enormity of the issue, let alone the repercussions of their advice. As the wise say, “Don’t believe everything you think,” either. Read full post »

Crack The Code On Pediatric Flu Shot Recommendations

Flu shots have arrived to nearly every neighborhood in the US. Frustratingly, clinics often get the doses after the retail stores (seems silly) and doses for children under age 3 may not arrive at the same time. So if you’re reading all over the planet that shots are available and your pediatrician’s office can’t offer it to you today, have patience. Children under age 3 receive immunization doses without preservative, so if a store or pharmacy advertises that they have “flu shots” it doesn’t mean they offer them to all comers. Pediatric doses are not offered at many retail locations. Often, like so many things in medicine, the same rules don’t always apply to infants and children. But that being said, clinics expect to get all the doses needed for our high-risk (and low-risk) patients in time this year (no expected shortage) and can help you determine when, how, and why to get a flu shot for your child. This year, it is more confusing than ever. Read full post »

Mandatory Flu Shots: “Ethically Justified, Necessary, & Long Overdue”

This year, The AAP issued a statement urging pediatric hospitals and clinics to require mandatory immunization against influenza for all health care workers. They stated it’s “ethically justified, necessary, and long overdue.” The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) began recommending influenza immunization (flu shots/mist) for health care workers back in the early 1980s. Even after 3 decades of the recommendation, overall immunization rates for health workers remain around only 40%. Evidence suggests a clinic or hospital unit needs an 80% immunization rate to protect themselves and their patients from the flu. In the US, we’re nowhere near it. Last year for example, the CDC estimated that for health care workers, only 61% got seasonal influenza shots, 37% got the HINI shot, and only 34.7% of workers received both.
Totally unimpressive for a group of people committed to protecting patients, curing illness, and preventing disease.

I believe the mandate is long overdue. No one likes to be told what to do, but there is reason behind this policy. For example, in the statement, The AAP used patient safety as part of their rationale, citing 2 studies: Read full post »

If It Were My Child: No Tylenol Before Shots

Earlier this year there was a massive Tylenol recall. The recall included Infant Tylenol drops, Children’s Tylenol, as well as many other children’s medications. I’m not exaggerating when I say massive, but generic medications (liquid acetaminophen made by Walgreens or CVS, for example) were not included. The recall was a great reminder that generics are just as good as brand-name medications.

The recall also serves as a great reminder that giving medications to children is never risk-free. Recalls like this remind us to use medications only when absolutely necessary. There is always risk when you intervene.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a great medication. It has a place in our medicine cabinets and in keeping children comfortable in the face of fever or pain. Teething, viral infections, ear infections, and minor injuries are great times to use Tylenol. But prior to shots is not. Or afterward, as it turns out. After shots, Tylenol will help prevent fever, but may also prevent the desired immune response. There is new data to support this that has changed the way I think and counsel families about Tylenol. Now when parents ask, I say,“If it were my child, no Tylenol before shots.”

Fever is a “normal” immune response to a trigger (medical school and residency taught me this). But being a mom has certainly shown me that fevers in my babies don’t feel “normal.” When we pediatricians say it’s “normal,”we neglect to connect with the experience of parenting a feverish child. I understand why so many parents reach for the Tylenol. I did; after F’s 2 month shots, he developed a low-grade fever and cried his little face off. I gave him Tylenol twice that night. I wouldn’t have, had I known this: Read full post »

If It Were My Child: No MMRV Shot

A study published in Pediatrics today confirms a slightly elevated risk in febrile seizures in children who receive the combo MMRV (Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Varicella) shot between 1 and 2 years of age. If it were my child, I would NOT get the combo MMRV shot, even if the elevated risk of seizure is extremely low. The American Academy of Pediatrics will likely recommend the same. None of us ever want our child to be put at increased risk. Or to be part of a statistic.

This study found children receiving the combo MMRV had double the risk of febrile seizure compared with those children who got the MMR and Varicella (Chicken Pox) shots individually. Data shows 1 in 2300 children could have a febrile seizure after the combo shot. So, like journalist Madonna Behen reported today, I do not recommend the combo.

From the way I see it, both as a mom and as a pediatrician, if the risk is increased, it is meaningful. And, because children who get the 2 shots separately are equally protected against Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Chicken Pox (Varicella) I recommend the safer route of 2 shots. Read full post »

Mama Doc Cliff Notes? Immunizations, Organic Milk, Formula & Swimming

Take a peek at this KCTS video interview for a recap on the science and rationale behind the most recent blog posts. My condensed (well, kind of) thoughts about a few recent studies, an AAP statement, and the news. It’s a little like Cliff Notes for the blog. But you don’t even have to turn any pages…

Links to studies discussed:
Study on immunization and neuropsychological outcome
Study on pesticide exposure