The Best Awful Thing I’ve Ever Done for My Baby

Hannah and Mia

Hannah and Mia

By Hannah Richards

This happens to almost every new parent. I know it does. Because the nice nurse at the front desk of Intermed Pediatrics told me so when I came running out of the exam room with tears and mascara all over my face and breastmilk squirting through the front of my shirt.

Your child goes to the doctor’s office for their first set of vaccines, and the smiling nurse assistant comes waltzing in with fun BandAids and a teddy bear toy, and they stick 3 or 4 needles into your baby’s itty bitty thighs and….nothing happens.

It’s kind of like time stops….and the room becomes completely silent.

And then…it happens.

Screaming unlike any screaming you’ve ever heard. A scream that could not possibly be coming from lungs that small. And the nurses start blowing gently in your baby’s face to remind them to breathe in. And you realize that this could quite possibly be the first time your little bundle of joy has ever felt pain. And by the time you can curb all of your sobbing and pull the daggers of guilt out of your heart – you realize that your adorable baby is sleeping peacefully in your arms.

Getting vaccines is not fun. For anyone. Mostly for mom. But I’ll tell you what is much, much worse.

Measles.

And Hepatitis – and Meningitis and Polio and Pertussis and a bunch of other diseases that most babies in the United States will never have to experience thanks to vaccines. As long as we keep up with them, that is.

Now this is coming from someone who won’t even take Asprin for a headache because I am generally distrustful of drugs. I grew up on homeopathic remedies and breastmilk. BUT, I always had all of my vaccines. And my daughter will too. Because kids still die from diseases that have no business even existing anymore. And like most parents, I would literally give my life to protect her. Vaccines just happen to be way easier.

Since I’m not a doctor, scientist or immunologist, I’m not going to elaborate any further about the safety of vaccines or how incredibly important they are. But if you’re interested, there is some excellent research here and here.

Instead I will offer all of the new moms (and dads) out there some tips we’ve picked up along the way for making those ouchy little life-saving shots more tolerable for everyone. Here we go:

1. If you are breastfeeding, ask the nurse if you can breastfeed your child while they give them their shots. Breastfeeding is seriously a miracle cure for all things (skin rashes, eye infections, chapped nipples, etc.) – and shots are no exception. As soon as I learned this little tip, Mia’s crying time during shots went from 3-5 minutes to nothing at all.

2. If you are not breastfeeding, ask to hold your baby in your lap during the shots, and offer a bottle or pacifier. Again, I am not a doctor, but my personal experience would indicate that the sucking motion is an extremely soothing exercise for babies – and when they are sucking, they are not screaming.

3. Ask Dad to come with you. I don’t know why this is true, but when my daughter Mia was an infant her daddy always had the magic touch for calming her down. I think it was because he was able to keep his cool, whereas I was bubbling over with anxiety and fear – and Mia could feel it. Also, since I was breastfeeding, anytime she was in my arms, but not currently nursing, she got very, very angry.

4. Go easy the rest of the day. Mia was always a little bit sleepy (hallelujah!) on the days she got her vaccines. So I let her spend a

Mia

Mia

little bit more time in her swing or in my arms, just rocking or nursing. The nap schedule and feeding schedule went out the window on vaccine days, and I limited visitors. I chose not to give her Tylenol (even when she had a slight fever) because our doctor told us the fever was a good sign of her body developing antibodies, and that we should let it do its thing. However, if your baby is really uncomfortable you should do what feels right, or as your doctor advises.

5. Know your baby. All babies are different, and they all react slightly differently to vaccines. Some barely notice or care, others get uncomfortable, or sore – or a fever. Don’t try to compare your baby’s reaction to someone else’s – or worse – Dr. Google. Instead, trust your instinct and your knowledge of your own baby, and keep in touch with your baby’s doctor if you have questions.

The bottom line is that vaccines are hard. They can be painful for baby, and even more so for parents – and they can make the already difficult job of caring for a newborn even more tenuous. But they are the best awful thing you will ever have to do for your baby – and for everyone else’s babies. Especially those too small, or too weak or too immunocompromised to receive vaccines themselves.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to receive such advanced and lifesaving healthcare for myself and my baby. I do not, and will not ever take that for granted.

For more great posts by Hannah, check out her blog Oh Baby Richards.

 

You might owe your life to Maurice Hilleman. So why don’t you know who he is?

by Eric Ward, October 2007

by Eric Ward, October 2007

This article originally appeared on HealthMap’s Disease Daily on June 10, 2014. It has been reposted here with permission by the authors. 

By Robyn Correll Carlyle and Jane Huston

 

“If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history.”- Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV

When you think of famous names in immunization (assuming you’re a vaccinerd, and prone to thinking of such things), you probably think first of Edward Jenner, creator of the smallpox vaccine. The next name might be Jonas Salk, the celebrated scientist who developed the first polio vaccine. You might have to think for quite a while before Maurice Hilleman comes to mind… or you might be thinking Maurice Hille-who?

Yet Hilleman is a veritable superstar in the world of vaccines, with more vaccines to his name than Beyoncé has #1 hits. While Hilleman never won a Nobel Prize or had his name in lights, he was revered by his peers in the scientific community and is credited for saving tens of millions of lives — maybe even yours.

And it all started on a farm in Montana.

Hilleman was born in 1919. Having lost his mother days after his birth, he was raised by his uncle and worked on the farm. He took an early interest in science and graduated first in his class at Montana State University with a degree in chemistry and microbiology. Later, he earned his doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Chicago, where (fun fact) his graduate work led him to determine the true cause of chlamydia and laid the groundwork for discovering its treatment.

He helped develop his first human vaccine in 1944 to protect American soldiers overseas from Japanese encephalitis. The vaccine would eventually be replaced by others, but Hilleman was just getting started with what would be a long career in vaccinology.

We won’t tell you his full story — you can get the cliff notes here or a more detailed account in his biography. But trust us, it’s impressive.

He developed eight of the 14 currently routinely recommended vaccines and is the reason we are protected from measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). Thanks to him, diseases that once claimed children’s lives or left them with severe disabilities are now largely a distant memory. During his career, Hilleman developed a total of 36 vaccines, making him perhaps the most successful vaccinologist in history.

So why haven’t you heard of him?

Hilleman was not one to brag. He didn’t name any of his discoveries after himself. He never sought recognition. He accepted praise humbly and quietly.

But perhaps the greatest reason why his name is largely unknown is because the successes that he achieved were silent. When public health practitioners do their job, the results look like… nothing. No one gets sick. Diseases don’t spread. Children don’t die. Life pretty much goes on as normal. But behind the scenes, there’s actually lot of work that goes into preventing kids from getting measles, or containing an outbreak of hepatitis A, or delivering clean drinking water to your home. All of those things are public health, and all of them are easy to take for granted.

And we have taken them for granted.

Right now, we’re in the midst of a cascade of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Measles, a disease once declared officially eliminated from the United States, is popping up left and right. According to the CDC, there have been over 334 cases this year in the United States alone, the most in a single year since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000 — and we’re not even half way through the year yet. Ninety percent of those cases occurred in unvaccinated people or people with unknown vaccination status. Measles may not be circulating in the United States the same way it was pre-2000, but we’re still vulnerable to travelers importing the virus from other countries, as what’s happened so far in 2014 clearly shows.

That vulnerability is why it’s so important to keep our vaccination rates high, and to bring up coverage in any corners of this country where rates are low. Encourage your friends and family to check to see if they’re up-to-date on their vaccinations. If some of them have concerns, guide them to trusted, science-based resources like the CDC, World Health Organization or the American Academy of Pediatrics, and encourage them to speak with their primary care provider.

Every time you think, speak or advocate for measles immunization, you’re shining a little light on Maurice Hilleman and his amazing career. And while he may not have received as much recognition as he deserved while he was alive, we can still honor him and his accomplishments by protecting the hard-fought progress made in the fight against preventable disease.


Jane manages the Vaccine Finder project at Health Map, the host site of the Disease Daily. Robyn is a contributing writer for the Disease Daily and works as a project manager for The Immunization Partnership. Both are fully up-to-date on their immunizations.

What public health threats are scarier than ebola?

You might have heard a lot on the news lately about the ebola outbreak in West Africa. There have been roughly 7,500 cases and 3,500 deaths so far this year, with no sign of slow down. And now with a case in Texas, many people are concerned about this potential public health threat.

But not to worry. Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos he was confident that the single case in North Texas would not ignite an outbreak like that raging in West Africa.

“Here in the U.S., I remain quite confident we will not have a widespread outbreak,” he said. “We will stop it in its tracks, because we’ve got infection control in hospitals and public health that tracks and isolates people if they get symptoms.”

We can all breathe a little easier knowing that.

So if we don’t need to worry about ebola, what should we be worrying about?

The Immunization Partnership‘s President and CEO Anna C. Dragsbaek outlined 5 public health threats in Texas that are scarier than ebola in an op ed published in Texas Tribune’s Trib Talk on October 1, 2014:

5 public health threats in Texas scarier than Ebola

By , Oct. 1, 2014

hospitalroombeds

There’s no doubt about it: Ebola is scary.

The disease has a high mortality rate and no known cure. No vaccine is available to halt its spread. And now it has arrived in Dallas — the first confirmed case in the U.S.

A media firestorm is brewing, and the public is understandably concerned. But the threat of Ebola spreading in the U.S. is nominal. Highly advanced disease surveillance systems, well-developed quarantine and isolation laws, adequate hygiene and sanitation, and top-notch medical services will keep the U.S. from facing a crisis similar to the one sweeping through West Africa.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about infectious diseases. In fact, there are at least five other preventable threats right now that are far more menacing — and Texans would be wise to pay close attention to them.

1. Influenza: Last year, widespread influenza in Texas led to the deaths of 20 children, most of whom were unvaccinated. The flu vaccine is widely available through clinics, workplaces, churches, commercial pharmacies and schools, but influenza vaccination rates among adults in Texas remain low. In Texas, only one in three young adults (who are most likely to have small children in the home and to transmit the virus to them) were immunized against influenza last season. Children died not from a rare infectious disease but from a vaccine-preventable disease that we didn’t protect them from.

2. Pertussis: In 2013, Texas reported 3,985 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough — more than any other state in the U.S. This disease is particularly dangerous for infants, which is why the vaccine is recommended for pregnant women and caregivers. Yet only about one in four adults who live with infants have been immunized against it.

3. Neglected tropical diseases: Chagas, Chikungunya, dengue and other so-called neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, are all circulating in Texas. Several of these diseases cause long-term disabilities and even heart defects. Yet despite the potentially devastating impact of NTDs, doctors don’t always diagnose them properly, and many cases go unreported due to inadequate surveillance and a lack of funding for vaccine development. To determine the true burden of disease, the Texas Legislature should appropriate funds to expand the capacities of existing clinics to detect a host of NTD threats.

4. Measles: So far this year, 595 cases of measles have been reported nationally — as many as the previous five years combined and the highest number in 20 years. Texas has seen its share of cases, with outbreaks in Tarrant County and a few cases in Houston. Unlike Ebola, measles is an airborne disease and is highly contagious. Simply being in the same room with someone who has measles can — and almost always does — cause an unvaccinated person to be infected. A highly effective vaccine nearly eradicated the disease, but it has recently made a comeback due to the surge in children who are not fully immunized, which leads me to the fifth threat:

5. Vaccine refusal: Texas allows parents to opt out of vaccines for their children based on personal beliefs. This means that your child could be in a school with unvaccinated children, who would present a significant risk of spreading diseases like measles, chicken pox, meningitis or some other vaccine-preventable disease if there were an outbreak. In 2011-12, nearly 30,000 children in Texas schools were unvaccinated, most of them for non-medical reasons likely due to fears about vaccine safety that have been thoroughly refuted by the medical community. But due to regulations about how data are collected and stored, Texas parents don’t have access to any information about the immunization rates in their children’s schools. The parents of a child with an immune-suppressing illness have rights, too. The virus of vaccine refusal is based on pseudoscience, but it’s spreading every day in Texas, and we’re poised for a preventable tragedy.

Having spent six years living and working in Sierra Leone in a rural missionary hospital and later as a relief worker during the civil war, I’ve been watching the spread of Ebola in my former home with a heavy heart and a deep understanding of the overwhelming challenges facing the country. Given Sierra Leone’s brutally hot climate and lack of resources and public health infrastructure, it’s no surprise that the epidemic has quickly escalated to a public health emergency and humanitarian crisis.

But we can and will avert widespread outbreak in the U.S. The real threat is complacency and a disregard for the scientific evidence of vaccine safety. Texas must increase funding to fight vaccine-preventable disease, reform our laws to prioritize public health and respond to constant threats that jeopardize the health of our community.

Is everyone skipping vaccines?

We're immunized! Are you? by Pixabay

We’re immunized! Are you? by Pixabay

This post originally appeared on the Disease Daily on Aug 25, 2014. It has been republished here with permission from the authors. 

By Jane Huston and Robyn Correll Carlyle

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. To celebrate, we are going to tackle a myth about vaccination every Monday throughout the month. View previous posts here, here, and here.

In our last myth-busting post of the month, we’re taking on the impression you might get from reading blogs or news online about vaccines: that droves of parents are deciding not to vaccinate their kids anymore. We know that with all the anti-vaccine chatter on social media or in the news, it often feels like everyone and their next-door neighbor is delaying, cherry-picking, or downright refusing vaccines.

But vaccination is very much still the social norm. In 2012, among US children ages 19-35 months, 92.8 percent were fully vaccinated against poliovirus. Ninety-four percent were vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (three diseases prevented with the DTaP shot). Overall, 80 percent completed three important childhood series: DTaP, polio, and MMR.

If the majority of kids ARE getting vaccinated, why do we seem to only hear about those who aren’t? It’s a case of a silent majority versus a very vocal minority.

The fact is that nationally, vaccination coverage is relatively high — but not high enough. We need exceptionally high immunization coverage against exceptionally infectious diseases, like measles. And worst of all, national averages can hide some local variances that create dangerous powder kegs for infectious disease outbreaks.

For example, in California in the 2007-2008 school year, 92.1% of kindergarteners were fully immunized — not bad, right? Well, unfortunately it’s not that simple. Someplace like Glenn County reported 98.5% immunization rates — you go, Glenn Co! But… on the other hand, Nevada County reported that just 75.5% of its kindergarteners were fully immunized. That’s not high enough to ensure herd immunity against many diseases, like measles or whooping cough. One infectious traveler entering that under-protected community could be the spark to start an outbreak.

One potentially overlooked factor is why those kids are not fully immunized. And here the story gets a little more nuanced. There’s a big difference in being unvaccinated and undervaccinated. Unvaccinated children haven’t received a single vaccine; undervaccinated children have received one, some or even most of the vaccine schedule but are still missing some important shots. And it turns out these two groups are pretty different.

Researchers looked at a random sample of over 20,000 children, from 1995-2001 to learn a little more about those two groups of children. What they found was that only 0.3 percent were completely unvaccinated (here’s that vocal minority– these parents were more likely to report concerns around vaccine safety). It’s actually an incredibly small amount of people who are refusing all vaccines (good news!).

But… over 35 percent of children were undervaccinated to some degree. These children were statistically more likely to be racial or ethnic minorities, have a mother with low educational attainment, and live in poverty. These likely aren’t kids whose parents are refusing to let them get vaccinated, but they might be having trouble seeing a provider regularly or paying for vaccines. They’re falling through the cracks of the health system. This group is arguably the most important group for public health officials to focus on for outreach and more services.

Those who choose to delay or skip vaccines by choice — because of safety concerns or worries about the schedule — are still only a tiny portion of our population.

Almost everyone IS vaccinating. But to keep it that way, the silent majority needs to get louder about their support for vaccination.


Jane manages the Vaccine Finder project at Health Map, the host site of the Disease Daily. Robyn is a contributing writer for the Disease Daily and works as a project manager for a non-profit focused on vaccine education. Both are fully up-to-date on their immunizations.

Flu shots are for everyone – not just you.

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by Daniel X. O’Neil

This article originally appeared on the Disease Daily on December 2, 2013. 

By Jane Huston and Robyn Correll Carlyle

Two out of five.

When public health officials make their rounds to encourage everyone six months of age and older to get the flu vaccine this year, two out of every five of you won’t.

Maybe you’re too busy. Maybe you don’t think it’s that important. Maybe you think that the flu vaccine would give you the flu (which it can’t).

“I’m young and healthy,” you might say. “I never get sick. And even if I do, it won’t be that big of a deal.”

But here’s the thing: It’s not just about you.

If you have influenza, you can pass the virus on to other people, sometimes without even realizing you’re sick. The communicable period (the time during which an infectious agent may be transferred from an infected person to a susceptible person) for influenza is between five and seven days, but can start one full day before you feel any symptoms. Some people infected with the virus never develop any symptoms, but are still contagious. That means you are able to infect others with influenza without feeling sick yourself. It seems incredibly unfair, but hey, all’s fair in love, war… and infectious disease.

It can be normal, everyday interactions that you wouldn’t think twice about. You touch doorknobs after discreetly wiping your nose. You squeeze onto mass transit and give out a little cough. You stand next to people in line at the grocery store and chat with them in close proximity. All of which are prime opportunities for influenza to jump from one person to another.

When you leave yourself open to the flu, you also leave yourself open to spread that flu to other people. And what might not be “that big of a deal” to you, can be a very big deal to someone you care about.

Every year between five and 20 percent of Americans will be affected by influenza, and at least 200,000 people are hospitalized annually because of it.

“Hang on now,” you might say. “Can’t we just vaccinate the people most likely to die or be hospitalized from the flu?”

Here’s the thing. Not everyone can be immunized against the flu. Babies under the age of 6 months and those who are seriously ill, for example, are not able to get the vaccine. And even older adults (the population most likely to die or be hospitalized due to flu) might not develop a strong enough immune response even after they’ve been vaccinated.

That’s where you come in. Something as simple as getting your flu vaccine helps to avert an average of 2 million cases of the flu and 18,000 flu-related hospitalizations every year. Because you can’t spread the flu if you never get infected.

But if we can’t appeal to your sense of civic duty, how about your pocketbook? Every year, the flu results in an estimated 31.4 million doctors visits and direct medical costs averaging $10.4 billion annually. Because people are too sick to go to work — or in some cases lose their life to the flu — we forfeit an average of $16.3 billion every year in projected lost earnings.

If you get infected with the flu and pass the virus onto another unsuspecting soul, that could mean days of lost pay — or longer if they have a family that becomes infected as well. After all, each infected person is likely to infect an average of 1.3 more people.

So for two out of five of you, this is our plea. Please don’t be that guy. Don’t be the one who could have received the flu vaccine but didn’t and now everyone in your office/kid’s school or daycare/grandmother’s assisted living facility has come down with it, too. You’re better than that. Besides, no one likes the sick guy.

Get your flu vaccine.


Jane manages the Vaccine Finder project at Health Map, the host site of the Disease Daily. Robyn is contributing writer for the Disease Daily and works as a health educator for a non-profit focused on vaccine education. Both are fully up-to-date on their immunizations.

The Summer My Dad Got Pneumonia

Angelina with her father, Larry

Angelina with her father, Larry

By Angelina Albert, MPH

In The Immunization Partnership office in Houston, there is a wall covered with large canvas print photographs. Each photo has a story connected to it of someone impacted by a vaccine-preventable disease. These stories remind us why we do what we do. I look at those photographs every day and reflect on what those families had gone through – what could have been prevented.

This past summer, our family experienced a vaccine-preventable disease story of our own.

It all started in July. Like many afternoons, I called my dad on my way home from work. He sounded weak and hoarse when he picked up the phone. I asked him how he was doing, and he told me how terrible he felt. He had woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air; he had never felt so bad. He wondered if he was possibly allergic to my mom’s recently adopted cat. I just assumed he had been working too hard and needed to rest. Even so, I was still very concerned. When I was young he had an emergency quadruple bypass.  Now – 22 years later – he is very healthy. He goes for long walks each morning and maintains a low-fat diet. But like any doting daughter, I still consistently worry about him.

I thought about him that evening and texted my mom to see how he was doing. She was coming to Houston that weekend and would bring the cat with her to see if his symptoms improved. We chatted about other things, and I assumed he would get better. She called me the next day from the emergency room. My dad couldn’t breathe.

When they took him into the ER, he was immediately diagnosed with pneumonia. They admitted him into the hospital, where he was put on oxygen and antibiotics and stayed for several days. His case was quite severe. The nurse asked him if he had received the pneumococcal vaccine, and he was pretty certain he hadn’t. Knowing where I worked, he called me to ask about it. After learning more about the vaccine from my colleagues, I told him that adults older than 65, especially those with chronic diseases (such as heart disease), should get the vaccine. He wasn’t even aware it existed, let alone that he needed it. He was annoyed that his doctor had not recommended it.

His hospital stay was extended when he developed an unusual swollen pain on his shoulder. My dad has his own business, and his anxiety level increased as he sat in the hospital room unable to work.  Now, months later, my dad is back at work, but still lacks energy.

Though my dad had made sure to receive the flu shot each fall, he had never received – or even been aware of – the pneumococcal vaccine for adults. He is older than 65, but is not frail or sickly, and to him developing pneumonia seemed to come out of nowhere. Seemingly healthy or not, it is strongly encouraged that adults his age (65+) receive the vaccine. I made him promise he would protect himself, and as soon as he was well enough, he went to the doctor to get the vaccine.

In 2010, 1.1 million people were admitted into the hospital for pneumonia in the United States, with a length of stay averaging 5.2 days. Among those with pneumonia in 2010, 49,597 people died from it.

My dad is one of the lucky ones; he pulled through. But my family will never forget that experience.


Angelina is a Development Specialist with The Immunization Partnership.

Six Signs the Article You’re Reading is Bad Science

by Vmenkov

by Vmenkov

This article originally appeared on the Disease Daily on Jul 16, 2014. It has been reposted with permission from the authors.

By Jane Huston and Robyn Correll Carlyle

One reason we feel so strongly about the role of vaccines in public health is because of the massive amount of good data and quality studies that support them. And that’s why it’s frustrating when media, the Twittersphere, or the internet in general circulate rumors and poorly designed studies attacking vaccines.

The thing is– science is hard. Like, really hard. People study for up to 10 years to be a qualified researcher. And reading scientific literature can be a bit tricky. We can’t catch you up to the guy or gal who’s devoted an entire career to vaccinology or epidemiology, but here’s a handy cheat sheet to help you spot the “junk science” when it comes across your news feed:

1. It confuses correlation and causation.

This is a big one, and possibly a mantra you’ve heard before: correlation does not equal causation. Correlation is a statistical term that simply means the way two variables fluctuate appear to be related in some fashion. Any fashion. Maybe variable A going up happens at approximately the same rate as variable B going down. Maybe they increase together. Maybe it’s not a linear relationship (but that’s a bit more complicated). What’s most important to remember here is we absolutely cannot assume that one is causing the other. We simply don’t have enough information since all we know is how the variables are changing.

Take this example of Nicolas Cage films and drowning deaths. That plot looks pretty good right? And the correlation coefficient is a fairly solid 0.66. Could it be that Cage’s action-packed thrillers are inexplicably driving people towards backyard swimming pools? Anything’s possible. But the two almost certainly have nothing to do with each other and are, instead, a total coincidence. Often when two variables are correlated, there is actually an unknown third (and potentially fourth and fifth) variable that is affecting both of the events you’re examining.

2. Its sample size is small.

People suffer from a wide range of medical issues every day — sometimes they are caused by what you’re studying, but sometimes it’s just by chance that the participants being studied develop an issue. Out of a study sample of three, having one guy get hit by a bus would look like a significant trend. The larger the sample size, the less impact those random occurrences will have on your data.

3. The study is uncontrolled.

Not uncontrollable like your two-year-old nephew on a sugar-high, but uncontrolled as in lacking a control group. A control group provides a researcher something to which to compare results; it’s the closest way to estimate the counterfactual. Did the subjects get better over the course of the experiment because of a drug being tested, or would they have improved anyway? A control group that is similar to the experimental group in every way EXCEPT for the intervention can help you answer that question.

4. The results are not replicable.

One study alone (even a well designed, large-scale one) can’t prove anything. All it can do is contribute to the body of work already done by the scientific community. It takes several studies coming to the same conclusion to say anything with confidence — and even then we can’t be 100% certain. Science is purposefully self-correcting. Researchers rely on each other to validate their results. If no other researchers have been able to replicate a study’s findings, that’s a red flag.

On a related note, beware of those researchers who are only citing themselves. If an author says that there is “substantial evidence to support” a given link or a particular cause, check out the citations. Have several different research groups provided evidence to support the link? Or is it just one name (the author’s) that keeps popping up? If that author is the only one who seems to be providing that “substantial evidence,” it’s worth taking with a fistful of salt.

5. There’s a conflict of interest.

This is a sensitive but important point. When publishing a paper, authors must disclose the source of funding for their work as well as any other relevant conflicts of interest, such as ownership of a related private company. This does not necessarily invalidate the results of the experiment, but you should definitely be aware of any potential bias when reading results. If the author has a lot to gain from the study and the results seem glowing with no down-sides or limitations, be suspicious.

6. It’s published in a journal that’s not peer-reviewed.

Whenever possible, try to read the original journal article instead of relying on the popular press. Articles in general news media can be a great source to find out about new and interesting research, but remember they are necessarily interpreted by a reporter (in best cases by a science writer with a background in science; in the worst cases it’s a press release). While you’re reading the original article, make a note of the journal it appears in. Is it a reputable publication, like Nature, Journal of American Medical Association or the New England Journal of Medicine? Did articles have to pass a peer-review process, meaning that other experts read the manuscript, asked probing questions, pointed out any errors, and addressed limitations? This process is by no means perfect; mistakes can certainly still get through peer review and show up in reputable sources. But on the whole, a study appearing in a respected, peer-reviewed academic journal carries more weight than one published on a personal blog.

There’s another deadly threat — single-issue shill “journals” published entirely to push an agenda. This is the worst possible abuse of the scientific process. Some people, after being spurned by reputable journals, will go so far as to create their own journals to fabricate a veneer of legitimacy for their flawed ideas. These biased publications are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Avoid them at all cost.

In the age of the internet, it’s getting harder to tell good science from bad. But if you follow this guide, and approach scientific articles with a healthy dose of skepticism, you’ll do fine.


Jane manages the Vaccine Finder project at Health Map, the host site of the Disease Daily. Robyn is a contributing writer for the Disease Daily and works as a project manager for The Immunization Partnership. Both are fully up-to-date on their immunizations.

Adults Vaccinations – Protecting Yourself Later in Life

imageA few months ago, as I was chatting with my mom, she casually mentioned that a family member had come down with shingles. I was concerned about him, but went about my day. All of a sudden (hours later), my concern turned to distress – this family member had held my daughter for about 30 minutes the previous weekend. Did this expose my daughter to shingles? And what were the risks? I knew very little about shingles at the time – only that it develops from the chickenpox virus – a virus that my daughter had not yet been vaccinated against.

Although she wasn’t a newborn anymore, my daughter’s little system still seemed so fragile and vulnerable to me. I thought back to our months in the hospital and got a pit in my stomach. I hated to be an alarmist, but I was worried. I immediately went to Google and researched whether or not shingles could spread from an adult to a child. (Sidenote: terrible idea. A lot of non-science-based sites pop up on Google’s search results list.) My next move was to put down the laptop and pick up the phone. I calmly called our pediatrician who reassured me everything was probably fine.

After getting some answers, I figured other parents might be interested in the information I found. So here it is:

How does a person develop shingles, and is it contagious?

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (or inactive) in the body. For unknown reasons, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Because the varicella zoster virus is already inside a person’s body, the infected individual cannot pass shingles along to someone else.

What if my child was exposed to someone with shingles?

Although shingles itself is not contagious, a person with shingles can expose others to the chickenpox virus from their rash, so those who have not had chickenpox before (or the vaccine that provides protective immunity) are at risk of developing it. My daughter was not old enough for the vaccine (she had yet to turn 12 months old), so our pediatrician told us to keep an eye on our daughter, as she was at risk. Thankfully, she did not contract the virus.

Who should get the Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine?

The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have not had the chickenpox. Children should receive two doses of the vaccine — the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old. Adolescents aged 13 years or older (who have never had chickenpox and who have not received the chickenpox vaccine) should get two doses at least 28 days apart. Anyone else who is not fully vaccinated, and never had chickenpox, should receive one or two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. The timing of those doses will depend on the individual’s age, and a doctor should be consulted.

How can adults prevent getting shingles?

They can get vaccinated! For adults, the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia – an extremely painful complication caused by shingles. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people aged 60 years and older. Even those who have had shingles in the past can receive the vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. Ask your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated today.

Both the shingles and chickenpox viruses can be very painful and dangerous, so parents – ensure your child gets the chickenpox vaccine when they are old enough, and adults – protect yourself from a bad case of shingles and get vaccinated. Again, the idea is to prevent what is preventable. In this case, the whole family can get on board for the greatest protection possible.

Sharing Immunization Information in Everyday Conversations

Christine Vara with her daughters

Christine Vara with her daughters

By Christine Vara

As a parent who keeps up with the latest immunization news, I feel obligated to share information about vaccines and infectious diseases.  My efforts are not just limited to my contributions on the Shot of Prevention blog, but rather expand to include everyday encounters I have with friends and family.

Of course, no one wants to be that person who only talks about one thing, even if it’s something as important as vaccines.  But as a parent to five children, I have plenty of opportunities to discuss immunizations in ways that are entirely appropriate to my conversations with other parents.

And in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, I challenge you to do the same.

Don’t be hesitant to talk about vaccines.  In fact, consider it a necessity.  You’re not reluctant to tell others about the doctor you love or the delicious restaurant you found.  Why not be as generous with the information you have about vaccines?

Even if people aren’t well versed on the subject of vaccines, they still want to know how to protect themselves and their loves ones from dangerous illnesses.  We must remember that the overwhelming majority of people vaccinate.  They do not need to be convinced that vaccines are safe and effective.  However, they do sometimes need to be reminded.

By suggesting vaccine recommendations in your casual conversations, you can help give people the information they need to make informed decisions.  Why not tell them about the measles and pertussis outbreaks in their communities or explain the risk of rising exemption rates in your local schools?  There are so many ways to introduce the topic in your everyday conversations.  Consider these personal experiences of mine:

At the Bus Stop

A neighbor mentioned that her son suffered with asthma so I asked if he received a seasonal flu vaccine.  Although his doctor recommended it, her husband didn’t trust the CDC and therefore they never got him vaccinated.  After providing statistics on the dangers of the flu and referring her to an abundance of scientific research on flu vaccine safety, she realized they had been lucky and decided to revisit her decision to get her son and all other family members vaccinated. 

At a Family Function

When my expectant cousin mentioned she wouldn’t be attending a family wedding because she was hesitant to travel with her newborn, she opened the door for a discussion about health precautions for expectant moms and newborns.  I explained the importance of flu and Tdap vaccine during pregnancy and also suggested her husband and anyone else who would have close contact with the baby be vaccinated.  When her mother insisted that she wouldn’t need any shots because she had been vaccinated as a child, I talked about waning immunity and the need for adult Tdap boosters.   By the end of the night every family member knew that their vaccination status was critical in helping to protect her baby and every other baby they came in contact with.    

Out to Dinner

As we enjoyed a meal with some friends the conversation turned to our children’s summer activities.  One couple mentioned that their

Christine's daughter after getting a vaccine this past summer

Christine’s daughter after getting a vaccine this past summer

daughter was attending science camp and learning about infectious diseases.  That was just the opening I needed.  Throughout the night I learned that one of the men had meningitis as a teenager, one of the women had a bone marrow transplant that prevented her from being vaccinated, and several of the other parents failed to understand the need for HPV vaccine for boys.  When I mentioned that HPV-related throat and penile cancers could be transmitted to men in ways that they may not have thought of, I referred to Michael Douglas’s case as an example.  By the end of the night parents were planning meningitis boosters for their college-bound kids and asking if it was too late to get the HPV vaccine series for their boys.

These examples illustrate how easy it is to walk the walk and talk the talk.  If you’re someone who is well-versed in current immunization practices, I encourage you to share your knowledge with others.  Why not see how many different conversations can lead to a discussion of immunizations in one week?

Start with something as simple as commenting on social media.  If you see a Facebook post about bringing kids to college suggest a meningococcal vaccine.  When people discuss their concerns about the health of their elderly parents, suggest shingles, pneumococcal and influenza vaccines.  When someone announces that they are expecting, make sure they know Tdap and flu vaccines are recommended for pregnant women.   Of course, sharing posts from The Immunization Partnership and Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook pages will also raise awareness about recent outbreaks, changes to immunization policies and vaccine safety studies.

Sharing immunization information in everyday conversations is not as hard as you may think.  Make a concentrated effort to do it day after day, and you’ll be amazed at the difference you can make in the lives of others.

Vaccines for young adults? It’s not just about you.

imageLet’s be honest. As young adults prepare to enter college, immunizations are not generally the first thing that comes to mind. They are young and healthy, fresh out of high school, and excited for a new adventure. Often times, they feel invincible – like they could take over the world. (Oh, to be young again!) Many young adults do not feel that vaccinations are something that applies to them.

In reality, the need for vaccination does not end when your childhood does. Vaccines are recommended throughout an adult’s life based on age, lifestyle, job, travel, health conditions and vaccines you received as a child. Even healthy young adults can contract (and get very sick from) vaccine-preventable diseases. Too few young adults are receiving the recommended vaccines, leaving themselves and their loved ones vulnerable to serious diseases.

Thanks to social media, and our culture’s current obsession with “selfies,” it’s easy to see why this generation of young adults thinks: “it’s all about me.” When it comes to vaccinations, the complete opposite is actually true. It’s NOT all about you.

Think about it. Young adults might not be the most at-risk for severe disease themselves, but they are likely to be in contact with those who are, such as:

  • Aging parents or grandparents
  • Very young nieces/nephews/cousins
  • Pregnant friends or relatives

Not to mention, this age group is likely to be in crowded living conditions (like college dorms) or come into contact with massive amounts of people every day on mass transit, in offices or in stuffy lecture halls.

Everyone older than 6 months should get the flu vaccine every year. Yet only about 1 in 3 adults under the age of 50 do. This matters because even if they don’t feel sick themselves, young adults are prime candidates for transporting disease to other people.

So what vaccines might a young adult need?

Tdap Vaccine:

  • One dose of Tdap is recommended if you have never received it after age 18.
  • After receiving that first dose of Tdap vaccine, a Td vaccine is recommended once every 10 years.

HPV Vaccine:

  • Three doses of HPV vaccine protect against the most common types of human papilloma virus known to cause cancer later in life. The vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year olds, but if young adults never received it, they have until they’re 26 to get the vaccine.

Meningococcal Vaccine:

  • Some states require students entering colleges and universities to be vaccinated against certain diseases like meningococcal disease. This is due to the slightly increased risk of contracting these diseases in close quarters like residence halls.

And of course, last but not least, the flu vaccine.

When my daughter came home from the hospital in the midst of flu season, I remember being so scared to come into contact with someone who had not gotten their flu shot, because her immune system was so weak. As a healthy adult, it is your responsibility to remain up-to-date on your adult vaccinations, to protect others who cannot protect themselves.

Remember, it’s not just about you! The vulnerable populations in our communities depend on you to keep them healthy too.