Making Our Voices Heard

texas-state-capital-592js072110As immunization advocates we all try to do our part to spread the message that vaccines save lives in our own way.  There are those that are active in organizations such as The Immunization Partnership while others take time to sit down with their friends and family to explain the important role vaccines play in keeping our community safe.  Just as important, there are those that stand up for the power of vaccines simply by staying up-to-date on recommended vaccinations or by having their children immunized against a list of potentially life threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.  In my eyes, none of these roles is more important than the other.  It takes everyone doing their part, in their own way to make a difference.  I am excited that this Wednesday, March 27, my husband and I, along with the staff members of the Immunization Partnership and a number of dedicated vaccine advocates will spend the day at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas for TIPs annual Legislative Day.  For me, this is more than just another opportunity to spread the truth about vaccines.  This is actually an opportunity to meet with the men and women who have the legal power to make a difference in our state.  Without the support of our legislators, there is only so much we as constituents can do to improve vaccine rates in Texas and ultimately make our communities a safer place to live.   It is critical that our lawmakers and their staff are properly educated about immunizations and the impact they have on the health of all Texans and I am proud to say I will be a part of that process this year.

So what do we hope to accomplish during our visits?  Here is a brief summary of four immunization related bills currently being discussed in the 83rd Texas Legislative session:

  1. Meningitis SB 62 (Nelson)/HB 565 (Laubenberg): This bill aims to revise the age requirement for the meningitis vaccine law, by eliminating the immunization requirement for students 22 years of age and older.  The revision also establishes DSHS as the only state agency allowed to grant exemption affidavits to students and eliminates the THECB exemption form.
  2. ImmTrac Immunization Registry HB 772 and HB 771 (D. Howard): In combination, these bills would allow all child immunization data to be automatically stored in ImmTrac, unless a parent chooses to opt-out. This bill also strikes language that requires the state to purge immunization records once a child turns 18.  Additionally, this bill would require immunization data to continue to be stored in ImmTrac after an individual turns 18. The records will be preserved in the system until the individual turns 26, unless the individual chooses to opt-out of the registry. This bill ensures that immunization data is available for young adults to facilitate adherence to education and employment requirements.
  3. Child Care Provider Immunization SB64 (Nelson)/HB 1150 (Zerwas):  This bill requires licensed child-care facilities to develop and implement a policy to protect the children in its care from vaccine-preventable diseases. Policies are to include: 1) identification of which vaccines are required for their employees based on their contact with children, 2) procedures for verifying compliance with vaccine policies, 3) procedures for medical exemptions, 4) procedures that unvaccinated employees must follow to ensure the children are protected from exposure to disease, 5) requirements that facilities maintain a system for documenting the vaccination status of their employees, and 6) disciplinary actions that facilities are authorized to take against employees who fail to comply with the policies. The bill states that child-care facility policies may include procedures for an employee to be exempt from vaccinations based upon reasons of conscience. However, it is not required.
  4. Consent For Minors SB63 (Nelson): This bill would allow minors with children to consent to their own immunization. Specifically, the bill would “a child may consent to the child’s own immunization if the child: (1) is pregnant; or (2) is the parent of a child and has actual custody of that child.”

Check back on Friday for an update and more details about our visit!

Doctor’s Orders

I had my monthly doctor’s visit this week and was very pleased when I received a script from my physician reminding me it was time to get my Tdap vaccine as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For most people, the recommendation for Tdap (which photo (2)protects from Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis) is every ten years, but as of October 24, 2012 that all changed for pregnant women. Even though I was vaccinated in July 2012 following the birth of my daughter, I still needed roll up my sleeve and get the shot (which I did yesterday), as do all pregnant women between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, irrespective of their prior history of receiving Tdap. Vaccination during pregnancy does more than just prevent a mother from getting whooping cough and subsequently infecting a newborn. It actually allows for “transplacental transfer of maternal pertussis antibodies from mother to infant,” providing protection against the disease early in life before infants are eligible to be immunized. To put it simply, if you vaccinate during pregnancy you are helping to protect your child against what can be a fatal illness.

So does this eliminate the need for cocooning? Absolutely not. It is still very important that ALL family members and caregivers go out and get vaccinated at least two weeks before coming into contact with an infant, but this new recommendation provides just one more level of protection. In 2010, 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S.; 3,350 of those were in infants younger than 6 months of age. Tragically 25 of those infants died. It is expected that vaccinating expectant mothers will prevent more infant hospitalization and deaths from pertussis than cocooning alone.

Pertussis is serious and can cause life-threatening complications in infants, especially within the first 6 months of life. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those hospitalized, approximately 1 in 5 will get pneumonia and 1 in 100 will die. Don’t let your child become a statistic. Take the time to get vaccinated!

The Power To Prevent

Heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes were among the leading causes of death in 2010 in the U.S.  Combined, these illnesses accounted for 1,454,473 that year alone.  Odds are you know someone who has either been affected by or died from one of these illnesses.  I am one of those people.  A little over a year ago I came close to losing my 31 year-old husband to a massive heart attack caused by a hereditary form of high cholesterol.  Unlike vaccine-preventable diseases, these conditions do not spread via infection but rather are linked to genetics and/or lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise or any combination of these factors.  Often little can be done in terms of prevention.  So here’s the question: if a clinically proven safe and effective vaccine was developed that would virtually eliminate, or at the very least drastically reduce the risk of developing any of these devastating diseases would you vaccinate yourself and your children?  My guess is most Americans would say yes in a heartbeat.

Why is that?  Why is there such hesitancy and opposition towards vaccines that have all but ounce of preventioneliminated diseases that once claimed innocent lives?  I believe there are two explanations.  First, everyone knows someone or knows of someone whose life has been affected by the diseases I mentioned before.  We have all seen or heard about the horrible side effects of chemotherapy and the devastation a family experiences when a loved one unexpectedly dies from a heart attack or stroke.  We know these stories and can imagine ourselves experiencing the same tragedy.  On the flip side, images of polio and iron lungs, smallpox, and even mumps seem more like gruesome tales of ancient times.  I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the thought of pools being closed in the summers for fear that my child would contract polio.  It seems more like a horror story than real life for many of us with young children, but this was very real for the grandparents of today’s young children.  It is pretty amazing that vaccines for such terrible diseases were developed just 2 generations ago.

The second reason?  Far too many people do not understand the possible consequences of some seemingly mild vaccine-preventable diseases.  Chickenpox (varicella) for example is commonly thought to be nothing more than a mild illness associated with a rash and itchy skin.  Nothing a nice oatmeal bath and some Calamine lotion can’t fix, right?  The truth is the disease can be quite severe resulting in very serious complications such as pneumonia, infection or inflammation of the brain, toxic shock syndrome, or even death.  Prior to the availability of the vaccine, varicella resulted in approximately 10,600 hospitalizations each year and lead to 100’s of deaths annually.

I hope we can continue to develop vaccines that will help eradicate many of the diseases that currently plague our nation.  Maybe one day we will even have to remind people of the devestating consequences that heart disease and diabetes once caused.  In the meantime, it is important to remember that we do have the power to prevent so many illnesses that once claimed countless innocent lives each year.  Take advantage of the protection that vaccines offer.  The power of prevention is in your hands.