Star Power

Maybe one of you can explain this phenomenon to me because I am stumped.  You would never ask your electrician for financial guidance, or your lawyer for his opinion on fixing that rattling noise in your car, so why do some people turn to celebrities for medical advice?   It just doesn’t make sense.

You can probably see where I’m going with this; that’s right, I’m talking about model, comedian, actress, game show and reality television host Jenny McCarthy.  Apparently her Wikipedia account is inaccurate because it failed to mention her years of education and medical training that provided her with the qualifications necessary to make claims that vaccines cause autism.  That’s right, she is not qualified.  She is not an academic expert, a doctor, or a vaccine researcher, yet parents around the world have put their faith along with the health and well-being of their children in the hands of the Playboy Playmate. 

The organization Autism Speaks is very clear in its message concerning the importance of vaccination explaining that while “many studies have been conducted to determine if a link exists between vaccination and an increased prevalence of autism” no correlation between the two has ever been found.  They even go on to “strongly encourage parents to have their children vaccinated, because this will protect them against serious disease.”   In fact, multiple studies conducted by researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Japan have failed to establish any link between vaccinations and autism.  Yet the words of a former MTV dating show host continue to be broadcast through the media outlets louder than the true findings that are supported by medical scientists around the world.  But why?

In my opinion, she put a face on autism.  McCarthy began promoting her anti-vaccination rhetoric in 2007, following her son’s 2005 autism diagnosis, appearing on television shows and publishing multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children.  She took autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a group of disorders that are difficult to understand and diagnose, that have no definite cause, and essentially made vaccines the scapegoat.   I personally find it frightening that a study found approximately 24% of parents placed “some trust” in information provided by celebrities such as McCarthy concerning the safety of vaccines even though reputable organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have continued to stand behind the scientific research that shows absolutely no link between autism and vaccines.

If my child was diagnosed with any disease or disorder that doctors could not give me a clear explanation as to its causality I would search the rest of my life for answers and a cure.  I would do everything within my power to make my child’s life and hopefully the lives of other’s better.  I would want to one day point a finger and say “That’s the reason this happened and here’s how we fix it.”  I sympathize with McCarthy’s desperation to find an answer, but she pointed her finger at vaccines with no scientifically proven evidence, and the consequences of her actions are nothing to ignore.  In a society largely obsessed with entertainment and celebrity culture, celebrities have a powerful impact on people’s lives.  Unfortunately, Jenny’s impact further fueled the flames of the highly discredited claim that vaccines are the cause of autism.

Are You Man Enough?

I’ll keep this one short and sweet.  We get it, you’re a tough, manly man (insert masculine grunting noises here), but if you decide to remain vulnerable to the flu this season and are among the 5% to 20% of Americans who contract the virus you may not seem so tough with your head stuck in a toilet.   Instead of risking your health, and the health of your friends and family, show everyone just how manly you really are by rolling up your sleeve and getting your seasonal flu vaccine!  Contrary to popular belief, you are NOT invincible!

I know, I know, you’re busy, you never get sick, (insert additional excuses here), but it doesn’t matter how many times a week you hit the gym or how many push-ups you can do, if you get hit with the flu you will fall…hard.  The flu (influenza) is a highly contagious disease that affects the lungs and can lead to serious illness including pneumonia.  And don’t think that your current state of health protects you from flu-related complications, as more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year.   And let’s not forget the time you’ll have to take off from work or school and all those happy hours with friends that you’ll be missing out on.  But don’t worry; you can throw yourself a little pity party at home complete with fevers, chills, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Sound like it’s worth skipping out on that flu vaccine now?  Time is no longer an excuse either.  Flu shots are widely available at doctor’s offices, drug stores, schools and even grocery stores; most without even requiring an appointment.

So if you find yourself “hugging the toilet” this flu season don’t say you weren’t warned.  The flu is not some amped up version of the common cold that a “real man” can handle.  It is a serious, possibly life-threatening illness that can, and should be prevented.  Why not make an excuse to show off those big biceps you’ve worked so hard for at the gym and roll up your sleeve this flu season.

Immunizing For Two

We have all heard of “eating for two” but have you ever thought about “immunizing for two?”  Well that’s definitely where my mind is these days.  That’s right, I am happy to announce that we are expecting baby number three this Spring!  During pregnancy so many things are out of your control, but I know that by eating healthy, exercising and of course staying up-to-date on vaccinations I can give this baby the best chance at a healthy happy life.   After the first visit with my OB I made an appointment to get my annual flu shot.  Being pregnant actually puts me in one of the many groups of people who are considered to be at a higher risk of developing flu related complications and that is a risk I am certainly not willing to take.  Knowing that my husband, my children, and I were protected was reassuring, but I suddenly began to think of all the loving hugs and kisses this new addition would receive upon his/her arrival.  My husband and I had a talk and decided that as we announced the pregnancy to family, we would also let them know that in order to protect the baby everyone needed to get their an annual flu shot as well as the Tdap vaccine to protect against Pertussis (whooping cough).  In other words, we are “cocooning” our baby.  What’s cocooning?  “Cocooning,” as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a strategy to protect infants against pertussis and other infectious diseases.  To put it simply, it is the practice of “vaccinating all close contacts of infants to protect the newborn from disease by keeping all those around them disease free.”

I’ll be honest, I was not sure how the news of “mandating” vaccines would be taken, but having had a child hospitalized because of a vaccine-preventable disease, the possibility of exposing our child to such serious illnesses was not a risk we were willing to take.   According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP,) flu vaccination is not recommended until 6 months of age and protection from pertussis begins at 2 months and is not complete until all doses have been administered at the 4, 6 and 15 month appointments, leaving a large gap in time where infants are unprotected from anyone who may be unknowingly carrying the disease.   As we broke the news everyone was more than willing to do whatever was necessary to protect the newest addition to our family, but there was one person left …my grandmother.  In my grandmother’s 93 years, she has spent less time in a hospital than most people a third her age, rarely even visiting a doctor.  So why wouldn’t she jump on the bandwagon?  A paralyzing fear of needles, that’s why!  Now when I say fear, I mean truly, deathly afraid of needles.  I was concerned that telling her she needed to receive not one but two vaccines was going to be like telling someone who was afraid of heights to climb Mt. Everest!   After sharing our good news I asked her if she had heard about “whooping cough” to which she replied “You know your Grandaddy had that  as a baby and almost died.”  I was so thankful to hear those words come out of her mouth because now I had an easy segway to support vaccination.  I explained to her that that was exactly why it was important for everyone in our family to protect themselves and by doing so protect our baby from what can be a devastating and fatal disease.  She sat there for a minute, looked at me very seriously and said, “Well, I’m certainly not going to be the one to kill my great -grand baby!  You just tell me the name of the shots and we’ll take care of it.”  What a relief!

As parents all we want to do is to protect our children.  If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, make sure that you, your friends, and your family are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.  Infants live unprotected in a world full of preventable diseases and they must rely on those around them for protection only obtained through vaccination.  By “cocooning” you can give your child the precious gift of protection from vaccine-preventable disease.

Lifestyle Vaccine

I have recently heard many people explaining away the importance of the Hepatitis B vaccine given at birth.  Many parents simply do not understand the reasons behind this vaccine and subsequently opt out of having their child vaccinated.  It is a trend that I feel is on the rise and needs to be addressed so that parents know this is not a “lifestyle vaccine” but rather the first of many important vaccinations that are necessary to protect our children.  As I was researching the topic, I ran across a post at Shot of Prevention that sums it up perfectly so I have decided to repost it for all of you here today.  Enjoy!
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This weekend, a colleague brought something to my attention that I’ve been thinking about all weekend.  It was a tweet that read as follows:

VaxCalc:  HPV (Gardisil) and Hep-B are lifestyle #vaccines; should govt mandate lifestyle choices?  #freedom #vaxfax

As I was thinking about this statement and conjuring up a response, I came across Dr. Natasha Burgert’s recent blog post on KC Kids Doc.   How timely!  She has created an engaging video presentation that addresses the six most common questions she hears from parents regarding the hepatitis B vaccine such as:

  1. Why does my newborn baby need a hepatitis B vaccine?
  2. What is hepatitis B?
  3. If my prenatal labs show that I am not infected with hepatitis B, why does my baby still need to get vaccinated?
  4. Isn’t hepatitis B an infection spread through sex and drug use?
  5. How could my baby get infected with hepatitis B?
  6. What if I wait until my child is older to get vaccinated?

Not only does her presentation answer many questions, but it also helps to explain that hepatitis B infections are not limited to lifestyle choices.  Many people don’t realize that they are infected, which consequently results in many cases being spread by casual contact.

The fact is that approximately 24,000 women with hepatitis B infections give birth in the U.S each year and many do not even know they are infected.  Sadly, infants infected at birth have a greater than 90% chance of suffering a chronic infections such as liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure when they become adults.

When it comes to the hepatitis B vaccine, it appears that one of the biggest parental concerns is the timing of the vaccine.  Since this is the first recommended immunization, parents are sometimes surprised that it’s suggested before their child even leaves the hospital. By catching them off guard, some parents feel a bit unprepared to make such an important decision. This can even result in a parent feeling hesitant about the recommendation and questioning the need for the vaccine at such a young age. Perhaps that is why one of the most popular posts on Shot of Prevention has been a piece entitled Why Infants Should Receive the Hep B Vaccine At Birth.

However, there is one thing that is extremely important to note about the hepatitis B vaccine; it’s not just preventative, but it’s also therapeutic.  See, even when tested prior to delivery, some mothers are not properly identified as being infected with hepatitis B.  But fortunately, if a child who is infected at birth receives the vaccination shortly after, their infection status can actually be altered so that they are no longer at risk of chronic infection.  I find this to be a fascinating benefit of this particular vaccine which only helps to justify the importance of the birth dose.

Most importantly, we must realize that parents and their doctors need to be having discussions regarding the recommended childhood immunization schedule long before a mother goes into labor.  Without a proper conversation regarding the risks of disease and the benefits of vaccines, it’s simply unrealistic to expect parents to make informed decisions, especially at a time when parents are often overwhelmed, exhausted, and struggling to adjust to the birth of their new baby.

There are lots of resources that parents can use to help educate themselves on the importance of the hepatitis B vaccine such as the following:

Immunization Action Coalition Information on Hepatitis B and Why the Birth Dose Saves Lives

Hep B Moms

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

Perhaps with a bit of research, parents will have a better understanding of the fact that while lifestyle choices may increase a person’s risk of contracting hepatitis B as an adult, there are still ways in which infants and children can contract it without even knowing. A simple and safe vaccine, that is recommended for all children at birth, can help prevent people from suffering with chronic disease as adults.  Knowing this, it’s easy to see why the vaccine in recommended for all.