Staying on Track

to do listA typical day in the life of a parent includes everything from Gymboree to baseball practice, errands to homework, dinner, and so much more. Becoming a parent adds so much joy to our lives…and also beefs up our “to do” lists.  Sometimes it’s tough to keep everything straight.

In my home, we have a family calendar on the fridge. It lists everything we’re doing during the month, plus little notes to “drop off dry cleaning” or “take dog to groomer.” It helps my husband and I feel organized, so nothing slips through the cracks.

When I took Stella in for her 9 month immunizations, I felt anything but organized. There was some confusion on which shots she was supposed to receive that day, and it was frustrating for both myself and our pediatrician. Because Stella got some of her vaccinations in the NICU during her 3 month stay, and the rest at the doctor’s office after discharge, her records were split up. Our pediatrician had perfect records of the vaccinations she’d gotten in their office but the ones given in the hospital were not as clear-cut. I was upset at myself for not having all of this information in one location, but then again, I just thought it was something our doctor would have. This goes back to a point I will preach to anyone who will listen: you must be your child’s own advocate.

So began my quest to find a place where I could track Stella’s immunizations, and ensure she was right on schedule with each one. How awful thinking about missing a vaccination due to a clerical error! I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Here are a couple of resources I found to be very helpful:

Immunization Registries
Every state has an immunization registry where children’s vaccines (and sometimes adults’ vaccines, too!) are logged and consolidated. These registries are confidential and consolidate shots given at various healthcare providers including pharmacies. Everything is neatly stored in one central location, so if a child receives vaccinations at multiple locations, or if records are lost or damaged, providers will be able to retrieve that information with a click of the mouse.  Ask your provider about your state’s immunization registry and verify he or she is inputting your child’s records. NOTE: If you aren’t sure how to find information about the immunization registry in your state, contact The Immunization Partnership (info@immunizeusa.org), and we’ll get you pointed in the right direction.

CDC – Childhood Immunization Schedule: (printable)
The links below allow users to view vaccination schedules by age range, and see when each vaccine or series of shots is recommended. Additionally, parents can create a personalized schedule that shows the recommended vaccination dates for their child.
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/parent-ver-sch-0-6yrs.pdf
http://www2a.cdc.gov/nip/kidstuff/newscheduler_le

Web MD – Vaccine Tracker: (online)
This useful site helps parents record and manage vaccinations for their entire family. It will also provide email reminders to ensure everyone stays on schedule.
https://vaccinetracker.webmd.com

So, whether you print out a schedule and keep it in your files, or track your kids’ vaccinations online, simply double checking they’ve gotten all the immunizations recommended by the CDC will ease your mind and avoid any confusion in the future. I would love to hear from our MOMmunizations readers on this subject. How do you keep track of your children’s immunizations? Do you have a great resource that reminds you when they are due? A go-to website, or app on your iPhone? Please post any words of wisdom in the comments section – I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Healthy From the Start – Thanks to Vaccines!

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I recently took my daughter for her 9-month immunizations.  I have to admit, as I looked around the waiting room filled with runny noses and coughs, I was a nervous mother.  I desperately wanted to shield Stella from all the germs swirling around the room, especially given how vulnerable she was her first few months of life.  My eyes darted from the little boy at the fish tank to the toddler fussing in her stroller – were they here for a well-visit…or to check out a mysterious rash? 

With all the stories about measles in the news recently, I couldn’t help but wonder if the children around us had been vaccinated.  Because my daughter will not get her MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for 3 more months, she is still susceptible to becoming infected.  Those who choose to forgo vaccinations are putting everyone around them at risk (namely, those who are too young, or too sick to be vaccinated).  The mama bear in me was coming out again…

This week, we’re celebrating National Public Health Week, a nationwide effort to empower people of all ages to take control of their health, and in turn, improve the health of families.  It also gives public health professionals the opportunity to engage in conversations with patients about planning for a healthy future.

One of the initiatives set forth during National Public Health Week is “Be Healthy from the Start.”  Embracing healthy habits from the very beginning is vital to improving the health of our communities as a whole – and that absolutely includes immunization. 

Babies who are immunized on schedule are protected against a host of vaccine-preventable diseases, many of which are currently making a comeback.  Vaccinations – and education about vaccinations – are part of the foundation of public health. 

Which is why – even through my nerves — I felt a sense of pride as I sat with my daughter at her doctor’s visit.  It felt wonderful knowing I was contributing to my daughter’s health and well-being, and protecting her from possibly debilitating diseases later in life.  The injections she was about to receive were not just another “9 month milestone” box to check, they were a big step toward a brighter, safer and healthier future. 

The moral of the story?  Being healthy from the start includes vaccinating from the start.  It’s a simple commitment with a significant payoff – a healthy life for our kids.     

Follow National Public Health Week happenings on Twitter: @NPHW

Small Bite, Big Threat

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Happy World Health Day, everyone! This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on the education and prevention of vector-borne diseases – those that are spread by mosquitos, flies, ticks and other insects. It’s a topic you probably don’t think about on a daily basis, but it is an important one – close to 1 billion people are affected by vector-borne diseases every year, many of which can be extremely debilitating, or fatal.

While these diseases have historically affected populations living in extreme poverty near the equator, many vector-borne diseases have begun spreading to new parts of the world, including the United States.

Take dengue fever, for example. Dengue, or “breakbone fever,” is a rapidly spreading, mosquito-borne, tropical disease similar to West Nile.

Dengue can cause extremely high fever and severe pain in the head and muscles (among other awful symptoms), and now because of increased international travel and environmental changes, dengue has recently appeared in places like Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida. That’s too close for comfort, if you ask me!

To add insult to injury, there really is no good prevention or treatment method available — but that very well might change.

Several vaccines for dengue fever are currently in clinical trials, and it looks like we’re getting close. The leading candidate is wrapping up Phase III clinical trials this year. If results are successful, it would be the culmination of roughly 60 years of research.

Developing a vaccine candidate for dengue hasn’t been easy. First, there is no animal disease model for dengue, so the testing process becomes increasingly difficult. Second, the virus itself is complicated. Infection with one type of the virus usually produces life-long immunity, but only to that one type of dengue virus. This isn’t unique to dengue – we see this type of specific protection with a few other vaccine-preventable diseases. What is especially challenging about our immune system’s response to dengue is that protection against one type seems to make infections with a second (or third or fourth) type of dengue virus much more severe and dangerous. Because of this, any vaccine against dengue would have to protect against all four types.

It’s an uphill battle, but thankfully one we could be winning. In spite of these challenges, remarkable progress has been made in recent years, and once it is fruitful, the vaccine could prevent 50-100 million cases of dengue fever worldwide every year.

So, today, in honor of World Health Day, take a moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made and are making in the field of immunization.

… And maybe also stock up on bug spray!

Thoughts on World Autism Awareness Day

In honor of Autism Awareness Day, we are pleased to re-post the blog below written by Dr. Peter J. Hotez. (Originally posted at “http://momentumblog.bcm.edu/2014/04/02/thoughts-on-world-autism-awareness-day/.”) Dr. Hotez is an esteemed researcher of vaccines for neglected diseases. He is also the father of a child with autism and a highly engaged Board Member of The Immunization Partnership. While our blog pertains to immunizations, we wanted to take a moment to appreciate and applaud our colleagues who work tirelessly to uncover the real cause of autism. We applaud Dr. Hotez for courageously sharing his story to promote autism awareness as well as the importance of vaccines.

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Thoughts on World Autism Awareness Day

Dr. Peter Hotez and his daughter Rachel.

Today is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day, a day when organizations committed to autism research, advocacy, or policy promote awareness through events and public discussions.

As both a scientist and a father of four – one of whom is an adult child with autism (as well as other mental and physical disabilities) and a second who is actually doing her Ph.D. on the developmental psychology of autism – I am often asked to speak or provide public comment about the autism spectrum conditions, especially their causes.

Indeed, the fact that I lead a multidisciplinary team that develops neglected disease vaccines while also serving as President of the non-profit Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development often places me front and center in the dialogue about purported links between autism and vaccines.

For me, the issue is completely straightforward.  From a scientific perspective, there is no scenario where it is even remotely possible that vaccines could cause autism. Instead everything I know both as a parent and as a scientist points to autism as a genetic or epigenetic condition.

new paper just published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Eric Courchesne and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, confirms that the brains of children with autism have distinct patches of architectural disorganization in their prefrontal and temporal cortical tissue.  Because the organization of the cortex begins in the second trimester of pregnancy, Dr. Courchesne concludes that the events leading to the malformation of the cortex must begin around this time or perhaps before then, certainly well before a child is born or ever receives a vaccine.

These new findings make a lot of sense.  Another term for autism is pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and indeed I am often struck by how my child’s neurological deficits are indeed pervasive and that there is no plausible way a vaccine injection could cause such profound structural changes to the brain.

Sadly, there are still widely held misconceptions about vaccines and many parents still continue to attempt to withhold or delay urgently needed vaccines for their child.  For instance my colleague Anna Dragsbaek, who heads The Immunization Partnership, tells me that each year tens of thousands of children in Texas do not receive their full complement of vaccinesbecause parents opt out due to unwarranted fears of adverse side effects of vaccines.

The results of not vaccinating your child can be devastating, such as in a recent measles outbreak in Tarrant County, Texas, and another one in Orange County, Calif., that were both totally preventable.  I like to emphasize that measles is not a benign illness, and can cause pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea and in severe cases, encephalitis.

My research group works closely with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Seattle, which recently published findings indicating that worldwide 125,400 children died from measles in 2010, in addition to 81,400 from pertussis, 61,300 from tetanus, and almost one million from pneumococcal disease. We have safe and effective vaccines for each of these diseases and sadly, most of these deaths could have been prevented!

So on this day I hope to continue to educate the public both about our safe and effective vaccines, while focusing national attention on autism where it belongs, namely the urgent need for research on the autism spectrum disorders.

There are some excellent resources for the latest research on autism as and the lack of a correlation between autism and vaccines, as well as for parents to identify autism early, when intervention is most effective.

Here at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital there is some extraordinary work going on in our Department of Genetics and at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute.  Our scientists are making extraordinary discoveries leading to the development of new and innovative interventions to combat autism.

As a parent and a vaccine researcher, it is my hope that we put all available resources towards finding the true causes of autism, while also continuing to fully fund the research of new and emerging vaccines that have already saved millions of lives and will save millions more in the next decade.  Both issues are critical to our long-term public health and economic prosperity.

By Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D.

A Vaccine Against Cancer

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The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is associated with several types of cancers in both men and women. In fact, it’s estimated to be responsible for a staggering 5% of all cancers worldwide.

The HPV vaccine (given as a three-dose series to both girls and boys, ideally between the ages of 11 and 12) helps protect us from the worst types of cancer-causing HPV. So, why do many parents wait to vaccinate, or refuse this vaccine for their kids? Are we just not as educated about the vaccine as we should be? Are we confused about who should get it? Below are a few common misconceptions about the HPV vaccine, and what you need to know.

My child does not need the HPV vaccine, because he/she is not yet sexually active and/or I don’t want to encourage that behavior.

As hard as it is to think about, our children may be exposed to HPV before they are truly “sexually active.” HPV spreads easily through skin to skin contact, so even if they are not engaging in the definition of sexual intercourse, teens may be exposed to the virus simply by being in “close contact” with one another. It is important to vaccinate our kids early, allowing their bodies to develop an immune response before they even think about engaging in sexual activity.

My child does not need the vaccination because he’s a boy.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys too! It not only reduces their risk of contracting and spreading HPV in the future, it also reduces their risk of developing certain cancers. It’s a win-win for everyone, and a no-brainer in my opinion.

 My doctor or my child’s school did not require the vaccine.

In many cases, the HPV vaccine is not a “required vaccine” in our school districts, even though it is included in the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule. But even though it isn’t required, getting the vaccine is still important. This is where we, as parents, must become advocates for our child’s health and future. Vaccinating them is in their best interest, and protects them from a host of complications that can develop from an HPV infection.

I can tell you, as a mom, that my daughter will certainly be getting the HPV vaccine as a preteen. If I can reduce her risk of cancer, I don’t have to think twice about it. I received the series of shots when I was 25, and Stella will be receiving them as soon as she is able. I hope your child will, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about HPV, check out the following resources available on The Immunization Partnership’s website:

Out of RSV Season

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As we “spring forward” and cold and flu season comes to a close, many parents celebrate because their child will finally get some reprieve from the constant sniffles and sneezes (s)he hasn’t been able to shake. Others, like myself, breathe a sigh of relief that their child made it through the season without catching one of the many viruses that have been “going around.” Spring brings a little more sunshine, and a little less Kleenex.

When it comes to their kids, most parents can recognize the symptoms that accompany an impending cold, or the flu, but there is another winter virus that parents may not know much about. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a winter virus that often presents like the common cold (fever, runny nose, cough, fatigue) but for high-risk infants, can be very dangerous, and is one of the leading causes of infant hospitalization in the United States.

All babies have some risk of complications from RSV, but those born prematurely (like my daughter), and those who have chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease are at an increased risk of developing a severe RSV infection. To top it off, RSV is extremely contagious. It is easily spread by touching, sneezing, or coughing, and can live on surfaces and objects (toys, door handles) for hours.

There is no cure for RSV, but for parents of high-risk babies like myself – there is help. Palivizumab (or known by its brand name “Synagis”) is a monthly injection of antibodies, given during RSV season, which protects high-risk babies from developing severe RSV.  While most vaccines offer “active immunity” — meaning that they activate the immune system into producing its own antibodies – this injection is a type of “passive immunity.” The injections contain the antibodies needed to provide some temporary protection during a time when children can be at their most vulnerable. While the injected antibodies can’t fully protect infants from getting infected, they can keep RSV from turning into something more serious. Because each injection offers protection for 28 to 30 days, most pediatricians recommend high-risk babies receive a palivizumab injection once a month from October through March to help them through the worst of RSV season.

My daughter received her first palivizumab shot in the NICU in October, and received her last one this month. I am happy to report (while knocking on wood) that my family has survived “bringing a preemie home during RSV season.” As I breathe a sigh of relief — thanks, in part, to those antibodies! — I also want to spread the word about how dangerous RSV can become, and educate parents about prevention and protection. Read more about how you can help stop the spread of RSV here.

 

www.immunizeusa.org

The Immunization Partnership Website

“Drumroll please…”

Introducing The Immunization Partnership’s brand new website,

www.immunizeusa.org

*Cheers! Bravo! Well done!*

If you haven’t had a chance to check out TIP’s new online presence, wait no longer – it’s an amazing resource and a wealth of information for the immunization community (as a whole, and locally).  Allow me to point out just a few of the awesome things you will find on immunizeusa.org:

  • WHAT The Immunization Partnership does; WHY and HOW they do it
  • The history and mission statement of TIP
  • The wonderful people behind TIP – their backgrounds, expertise, and roles; as well as TIP’s Board of Directors, Physician’s Advisory Council and Advisory Committee
  • Information about Immunization Champions – how this program has improved vaccination coverage rates, and how YOU can become a champion
  • Evidence-based resources for patients, such as
    • Immunization schedules for children , teens and adults
    • Personal stories of families affected by vaccine-preventable diseases
    • Information/myths/misconceptions about vaccines
  • Resources for healthcare providers, like
    • TIP provider toolkits
    • Educational materials for clinics
    • Research regarding specific vaccines
    • Training resources for clinical staff
  • Webinars featuring issues ranging from health care reform to vaccine-hesitant parents
  • Fantastic videos, like this Ted Talk, given by TIP’s very own Anna Dragsbaek
  • TIP in the news and current media happenings in the vaccination world
  • Links to TIP’s Facebook, Twitter, and MOMmunizations blog

You will learn:

  • About upcoming events, on a local and national level; view the April 2014 calendar HERE
  • Where TIP’s funding goes
  • How to donate to – and join – the Big Shot Society
  • About TIP’s community forums, or Lunch & Learns, where experts share information on topics related to immunizations
  • What “Community Immunity” is all about, and how to request a speaker for your next meeting or event
  • About legislative issues, and how to take action to become an advocate for immunization in your community

The team at TIP has done a fantastic job with this site.  It really is wonderful to have so much great information all in one place.  Now that you’ve read the “Cliffs Notes,” go check it out for yourself.

Explore!  Enjoy!  Learn!

www.immunizeusa.org

Timely Vaccination is Important in Protecting Children from Diseases

This is a guest post by Andrew Kroger MD, MPH, Medical Officer for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

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As a parent and a physician, I know how important it is for children to be vaccinated on time. In fact, vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children be vaccinated according to the recommended immunization schedule.  This schedule is designed to offer protection early in life, when babies are vulnerable and before it is likely they will be exposed to diseases. Public health and medical experts base their vaccine recommendations on many factors, including careful study of information about diseases and vaccines to decide which vaccines kids should get, and when they should get them for the best protection.

When children aren’t vaccinated or vaccination is delayed, they are left unprotected against diseases, including diseases that we thought were things of the past, like measles. In 2013, over 180 people were reported to have measles in the United States, with outbreaks across the country.

Although we have seen success in vaccination against measles in the U.S, it is still a common disease in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Measles can be brought into the U.S. by unvaccinated U.S. residents and foreign visitors who get infected when they are in other countries. Measles spreads easily, and it can be serious, causing hospitalization and even death. Young children are at highest risk for serious complications from measles.

Some parents may be concerned about the number of vaccines a child needs in the first two years. Although it may seem like a lot, a healthy baby’s immune system can handle getting all vaccines when they are recommended. In addition, the recommended immunization schedule is flexible enough to reduce the number of shots given at a visit. For example, the third dose of hepatitis B vaccine can be given at 6 through 18 months of age.

Parents want what is best for their children, and one of the best ways to protect children is to make sure they have all of their vaccinations on time. If you have questions about the childhood immunization schedule, talk with your child’s doctor or nurse. For more information about vaccines, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.

Becoming a “Mama Bear”

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I received a birthday card from my dad this year that made me chuckle. On the front, it said “In my day, we didn’t need Facebook or Twitter…” and the inside read “because we all had cholera. That was the news, and we didn’t need social networking to tell us that.” The card was very fitting, because my dad is the last person you will ever see with a Facebook profile, a Twitter handle or an Instagram account. He uses the good old-fashioned telephone to communicate. And I love that about him!

Family jokes aside, the card got me thinking about a time when the topics that were “trending” were cholera, polio, and smallpox – just to name a few of the rampant diseases that were killing millions of people around the world. It made me think how lucky I am to live in a day and time where these horrible diseases are largely preventable in our country, whether by proper sanitation and water purification (i.e. cholera), or simple vaccinations (polio, measles, etc).  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 1900, the average life expectancy of an American was 47.3 years of age. Just one hundred years later, that number had increased to 77 years of age, largely due to the development of vaccinations and other reactive treatments for disease.

I imagine many mothers in the early 20th century would have given anything to prevent their child from contracting a deadly disease. There is nothing more protective than a “mama bear” – and I understand that now, more than ever. When my daughter was born, I found myself thinking that I would do anything in my power to keep her healthy and safe. For me, that meant immunizing her on schedule, as recommended by her neonatologist and pediatrician. But other mothers in my generation are choosing to withhold vaccinations from their children, questioning their safety and value. Every mother wants the very best for her kids, and on both sides of the coin, the question we ask ourselves is “does the benefit outweigh the risk?”

For me, the benefit of immunizations absolutely, without a doubt, outweighs the risk of forgoing them; because unfortunately, many diseases have not been completely eradicated. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that the New York City Health Department had identified 16 cases of measles in Manhattan and the Bronx. Two more cases have recently been reported in Connecticut. Because families are choosing to forgo vaccination, a disease that was once all but eliminated in the U.S. is now making a comeback.

My generation is fortunate to have never experienced the fear associated with widespread diseases like polio, smallpox, measles and mumps. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not find out what that feels like. Immunizing yourself (and your children) not only protects you, it protects those who cannot yet be vaccinated, such as the very young (like my baby girl) or the very sick. Their health is in our hands.

Passing the Torch

Hello MOMmunization readers!  My name is Courtney, and I am delighted to be the new blogger for The Immunization Partnership.  What a wonderful organization and a great cause.  I look forward to learning more about you as readers, and embarking on this journey together.  A little background on myself: I am a first time mom to 8-month-old Stella, and my husband and I reside in Pearland, TX.  Recently, immunizations have become an extremely important part of my life.

My journey to parenthood started out like any other – exciting news, fun ultrasounds, and a kicking, wiggly, growing girl.  However, at 26 weeks, my water broke unexpectedly, and my life was thrown for a major loop.  Stella’s due date was September 30th, but she arrived in the early morning hours of June 28th – 13 weeks premature, and weighing less than 2 pounds.  My family was thrust into a world of beeping monitors, rushing nurses, and fragile lives – the Neonatal ICU.

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Immediately following delivery, my husband and I were given Tdap vaccines.  Honestly, vaccinations were the last thing on my mind that day, but as I prepared to “scrub in” upon entering the NICU for the first time, I noticed a large sign outlining the dangers of pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” to these delicate babies.  No one was allowed into the unit without a vaccine.  And as soon as flu vaccines became available in August, everyone in the NICU got one.  No exceptions.

Stella stayed in the hospital for three months, and finally, on October 3rd, we got to take our baby home.  Upon discharge, we were told that she should remain in quarantine at home throughout cold and flu season.  No outings to public places, and no visitors allowed without their Tdap and flu vaccines.  Because of her weak immune system, contracting even a mild cold could send Stella straight back to the hospital.   Pertussis or flu could be fatal.  So, to say that immunizations became important to me is an understatement.

Today, I am happy to report that Stella is a perfectly healthy, happy baby!  Our experience has made me incredibly thankful for advances in modern medicine.  It has also prompted me to think about a time when vaccinations were not readily available to families of newborns.  How many tiny lives were lost due to (now preventable) diseases?

We are so lucky to live in a world where a quick prick in the arm can literally save a life.  If you are planning to be around a baby this year, schedule a time to get immunized against pertussis and flu.  I promise the new parents will thank you!