TIP Staff Spotlight Series: How Maureen Became the “Vaccine Queen”

Alana asked each of us here at The Immunization Partnership to write a little about how we got here and why we do what we do. This week we continue the series with Maureen, Project Coordinator.
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Maureen Moore | Project Coordinator

When Alana asked me to write about what brought me to The Immunization Partnership and what I do, I thought “I wasn’t in the Peace Corp and I don’t have a glamorous story to tell.”  My greatest accomplishment was birthing and raising a healthy daughter.  As a 36-year old mom in Molly’s first year of life, I religiously took her to her pediatrician (a shout-out to Dr. Cutler!) every two months and eagerly awaited her assurance that I wasn’t ruining my baby!  Besides keenly studying Molly’s growth chart, I signed paperwork consenting to shots.  I didn’t bother to read the Vaccine Information Statements given every time – no, I fully trusted her doctor and knew that shots were part of the deal.

Maureen
Maureen (right) and her daughter Molly

Fast forward to 1998 when I took a job with the Houston Health Department’s Immunization Program.  I thought “what’s the big deal?  It’s just shots, right?”  Yet I learned that they are a very big deal and lots more complicated than I realized.  Managing the million dollar plus supply of vaccines was a massive responsibility and one that involved constant education for physicians, nurses and medical assistants.  The official ACIP recommended immunization schedule is updated yearly and although at a glance it appears straightforward, it can be complex particularly for newer healthcare providers.  Coordinating trainings and in-services became my favorite task; it was also immensely rewarding to interact with new front-line immunizers (like medical assistants and LVNs) who were eager to learn more about vaccines. You could say I became the “Vaccine Queen.”

Since my professional life began to revolve around vaccine-preventable disease (VPD), I have seen the introduction of several life-saving vaccines for rotavirus, pneumococcal, meningococcal and human papillomavirus diseases, as well as the launch of several combination vaccines that reduce the number of injections needed to prevent some diseases: DTaP-HIB-IPV, MMRV, DTaP-HBV-IPV, HBV-HAV and DTaP-IPV.  Confused yet?  Clearly VPD education was and is essential and endless!

In 2008 I joined Anna Dragsbaek at The Immunization Partnership (TIP).  What drew me to TIP was the opportunity to continue supporting Houston’s healthcare providers with excellent resources and guidance as they immunized children and adults. I am now a project coordinator, working on the Immunization Champions project, where I help clinics put processes in place to raise and maintain high immunization rates.

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Maureen (center) with Immunization Champions Min (left) and Crystal (right)

My TIP colleagues all possess the fire in their bellies to further TIP’s Mission: To eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating evidence-based public policy and promoting immunization best practices.  Our tagline really says it all: Immunize. Prevent What’s Preventable.

Now 24 year later, Molly is fully immunized and no longer fights me about getting her yearly flu shot AND she encourages her friends to get it too!  I guess I didn’t ruin her after all.

Measles and McCarthy: No controversy, just facts

We at The Immunization Partnership have been following the story about Jenny McCarthy joining “The View” very closely. Below is an editorial written by our staff regarding McCarthy, the media and the rise of measles. 
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Measles and McCarthy: No controversy, just facts

The recent Wall Street Journal article “Fifteen Years After Autism Panic, a Plague of Measles Erupts” is a strong example of how the media’s history of perpetuating unfounded fears regarding vaccines can have devastating effects.

The measles outbreaks in Wales and Brooklyn are a cautionary tale of what can happen when misinformation is given a megaphone. Now that anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy is co-hosting “The View,” public health professionals are nervous that history will repeat itself.  

Published last weekend, the article explored how the Wakefield-fueled autism scares of 1998 have helped spur recent measles outbreaks not only in the United Kingdom but also much closer to home in Brooklyn and other parts of the U.S. It also puts forth another crucial point: when it comes to concerns about vaccination, the media play a huge role.

When Andrew Wakefield’s article was first published fraudulently linking the MMR vaccine and autism, it was widely publicized. The rising concern regarding the decades-old vaccine was all over the news, particularly in Wales, where one paper, the South Wales Evening Post, gave the story full coverage complete with dozens of families’ stories.

And why wouldn’t it? The story was sensational. A vaccine that was supposed to protect children could be hurting them? That made for good headlines.

Scientists would later publish a large body of evidence completely debunking Wakefield’s claims, but the floodgates were already open. Doubt still lingered, and vaccination rates dropped by 14 percent in the paper’s distribution area, compared to 2.4 percent elsewhere in Wales. The moral of the story: One media outlet can and could have a significant impact on public health.

Years later, measles is making a comeback, largely in unvaccinated populations. Once-hesitant parents are rushing to vaccinate their children, while others wish they had. There have been 117 cases of measles reported in the U.S. this year alone – up from 54 in the whole of 2012. If rates stay the same, they could very well surpass the 220 reported in 2011, the highest since 1996.

For public health professionals, there’s little doubt that the drop of vaccination rates in some communities – sparked by the autism scares and subsequent anti-vaccine movement – is, in large part, to blame.

Media outlets try to balance their coverage of these outbreaks by pitting often-incendiary anti-vaccine activists alongside health professionals. In their quest for exploring the great “vaccine debate,” they make one crucial mistake.

When it comes to vaccines, there is no debate.  There are only facts. 

Scientific evidence is entirely on the side of vaccines. There is no balance to be found. The media’s attention to the anti-vaccine movement only serves as a platform to perpetuate misinformation and lend it credence.

This is why the public health community is in uproar over anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy joining the popular daytime television show “The View.” Becoming a regular on the Emmy award-winning talk show not only gives McCarthy a platform to share her noxious views, but it also lends her a false impression of legitimacy.

ABC probably thought they were stirring the pot by bringing in a “controversial” co-host, but they neglect to acknowledge the irresponsible nature of their decision. They’ve handed an anti-vaccine activist a megaphone and a national audience. Fears and misinformation perpetuated by McCarthy could potentially influence millions of parents to delay or forgo vaccinations altogether – far more than reached by the South Wales Evening Post.

It is the hope of public health professionals that science and evidence will prevail. But if history proves to be a guide, it’s possible we’re on the cusp of another media-fueled panic that could put an entire generation of kids at risk. 

TIP Staff Spotlight Series: The Not-So-Stay-At-Home Mom

Alana asked each of us here at The Immunization Partnership to write a little about how we got here and why we do what we do. This week we continue the series with Julie, the Director of Development. 
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Julie Comiskey | Director of Development

As I look at my son, Corbin, I cannot imagine a life without him in it.  He loves life and always has a great time. His favorite saying is “What’s next mom?”  

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Corbin

There are parents who have lost children needlessly to diseases that could have been prevented.  Before I came to The Immunization Partnership (TIP), I was a “stay-at-home” mom. However that term is an oxymoron because I ran around like crazy and was rarely at home.

Last December a recruiter contacted me about the position at TIP. I really wasn’t looking to go back to work and wasn’t going to interview. But then I started thinking about TIP and its mission of protecting communities from vaccine-preventable diseases. I began to do a little more research and discovered how easy it is to opt out of getting your children their shots. A past conversation came to me. My friend was telling me how she just checked a box on a form that said for “reasons of conscience.” That was all she needed. And they didn’t give her child his vaccines. If her son were to sit next to your child in school, you would never know that he was not current on his shots.

A few of my friends had chosen not to vaccinate their children or to delay their vaccinations, and it struck a nerve in me. These were intelligent moms that were simply misinformed and believed the stories about vaccines that were not based on science.  Their children were not protected against preventable diseases and could potentially be carriers of disease in our community.

I knew that if I was going to take time away from my family that it had to be for something that I truly believed in. I decided that Corbin was ready for me to re-enter the work force and The Immunization Partnership was doing important work. So, in January I made the transition to TIP and have loved every minute of it!

… Well most minutes anyway. 🙂

 

It’s not personal. It’s prevention.

Why we at TIP are concerned about Jenny McCarthy joining The View

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Image from: The Vaccine War on PBS Frontline

Last week, word got out that Jenny McCarthy was in the running for a co-host slot on ABC’s The View. Within hours a rush of tweets, blog posts and petitions popped up all over the internet urging ABC to reconsider. Sites like Salon.com, The Atlantic and US News & World Report began posting editorials outlining the potential dangers of an anti-vaccine advocate on The View.

But this morning, Barbara Walters confirmed McCarthy is indeed joining the cast, and – not surprisingly – public health and immunization advocates are concerned.

Many of you know that McCarthy has used her celebrity to help propel the anti-vaccine movement and spread inaccurate information about vaccines and autism. The View is one of the most popular and longest running talk shows on daytime television (nominated for the Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Talk Show 14 times since it debuted in 1997). For McCarthy to have such a public platform where she could sway viewers to delay or forgo vaccinations for their children is a terrifying thought.

McCarthy, on the other hand, has rejected the assertion that she is anti-vaccine and insists that she is pro vaccine safety.

“Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group,” she told TIME magazine. “We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”

These “dangers” of the current childhood immunization schedule and vaccine ingredients have since been debunked. Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine examined all available research on the childhood vaccine schedule and published a comprehensive report on vaccine safety, reaffirming yet again that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism. The report does admit that there are some risks associated with vaccines – just like there are risks with any medical procedure or treatment – but these risks are rare and often very mild. This report is free and available online for anyone who would like to read it.

McCarthy has urged parents to “educate themselves.” But yet her track record of encouraging parents to spread out vaccines and forgo some shots altogether demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of how vaccines work and the science behind the childhood schedule.

The Advisory Council for Immunization Practices (ACIP) is the panel responsible for creating the vaccine schedule. It looks at all available research, and makes recommendations to protect individuals from diseases as early and as safely as possible. Spacing out the vaccines does not make people safer; it puts them at risk for serious infections.

If enough people are unvaccinated, potentially devastating diseases like the measles or whooping cough can resurface. We’ve already seen measles outbreaks pop up in Indiana, Minnesota and New York. And whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is at a 60-year high nationwide. This is, in large part, due to a drop in vaccination rates.

McCarthy has famously said that given the choice between autism and the measles, she would “stand in line” for the measles. But these are the words of a woman who grew up in a world where vaccination rates against measles were high and the disease had been virtually eliminated in the U.S.

Before the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was available, nearly every child was infected with the measles. About 1 in 3 cases had complications like pneumonia or brain swelling, and there were roughly 450 deaths each year because of it. Even today with all the medical advances available to us in the United States, roughly three out of every 1,000 people with measles will die. In the developing world, it is more like one out of every 100.

What McCarthy has done is tell parents to trade a very, very small risk of an adverse reaction to a vaccine for the much greater risk of death and disability from disease.

And people trust her because when she speaks, she speaks with conviction. She’s clearly very passionate about what she believes and is vocal about sharing her opinions. She’s a mother, after all. And what mother wouldn’t rise up and fight for what she believes to be right for her child?

But the information she is spreading is not accurate. The science she refers to as “fact” is based on invalid research. And ABC has just offered to give her a megaphone.

THAT is why public health professionals and immunization advocates think it’s important to be concerned about McCarthy stepping into this role.  And so should you.

A petition is now being circulated to urge ABC to reconsider McCarthy as a co-host. If you are concerned about the potential impact of McCarthy’s beliefs being shared on The View, you can sign the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/abc-s-the-view-just-say-no-to-adding-jenny-mccarthy-to-the-view

For more on this, please check out:

An excerpt from Seth Mnookin’s book The Panic Virus:  http://blogs.plos.org/thepanicvirus/2013/07/15/a-jenny-mccarthy-reader-pt-1-the-birth-of-a-star-and-an-embrace-of-crystal-children/

Dr. Claire McCarthy:  http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/mdmama/2013/07/abcs_hiring_of_jenny_mccarthy_a_decision_that_could_cost_lives.html

Shot of Prevention: http://shotofprevention.com/2013/07/12/tell-abc-that-jenny-mccarthy-doesnt-represent-your-view/

LBRB: http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2013/07/15/jenny-mccarthy-angling-for-a-spot-on-the-view/

Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/10/why-jenny-mccarthy-is-worse-than-elisabeth-hasselbeck.html?obref=obinsite

TIP Staff Spotlight Series: Sick and Far from Home

Alana asked each of us here at The Immunization Partnership to write a little about how we got here and why we do what we do.

Join us each week as we introduce a different member of the TIP team. This week we kick off the series with Robyn, the Community Outreach Coordinator. 
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Robyn Correll Carlyle, MPH | Community Outreach Coordinator

Three years ago, I lived in a small, rural village in northern Peru, working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the local health post.

I did things like this:

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Planting an organic vegetable garden at a family’s home

And taught groups of kids like this: 

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Group photo after a summer school life skills class

I was what Peace Corps called a “generalist.” Fresh out of college, I had a degree in journalism and little practical health experience. I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to do something worth doing in a place I’d never been. I walked into it with the same wide-eyed expectations that many volunteers do — prepped with some unbridled enthusiasm and intermediate Spanish. I returned with a much more pragmatic worldview and a passion for public health.

But let me back up …

I think it’s safe to say that, for the first year anyway, I was the sickest person in my village. I spent countless days, curled up on my straw mattress in 90+ degree heat, wishing the Powers That Be would either kill me or heal me.  More often than not, it was some kind of stomach bug. Bugs that most of my host family, neighbors and friends were immune to.

I encouraged my host family to boil water and wash their hands to help keep me healthy. But they didn’t think that would help. After all, they weren’t getting sick. It was just something I had to power through. Soon I would be immune, too.   

It was a rough year.

As I was almost always ill, I started noticing disease everywhere. Sickness quietly held back progress for the people of my town. Parents who got sick with the flu would have to take time off work and risk losing vital income for their families. Kids with parasite-induced anemia wouldn’t be able to concentrate in school and so fell behind. And infants died from severe dehydration caused by diarrheal diseases like rotavirus.

Sometimes there was treatment available through the health post, but by then the damage had often been done.

What floored me was how many of these diseases were things that could be prevented. So much of the pain, discomfort and disability could have been avoided by using things like safe water, soap and vaccines. That realization shaped my service and stayed with me long after returning home. 

… I eventually got stronger. My body did finally adjust to the environment — intact, though not entirely unscathed.  When I returned to the U.S., I enrolled in a master’s program for public health and began my career helping communities stay healthy.

My time in Peru taught me many things. But perhaps the most important was that while not all diseases are preventable, the ones we can prevent, we should.

I was drawn to TIP, because its mission and staff are dedicated to preventing what’s preventable.  So that kids like Arleth (below) can grow up in a world without measles or whooping cough. So that parents can provide for their kids, and thousands of infants each year can escape death and disability due to vaccine-preventable diseases.

It’s a mission worth rallying for. And I’m excited to be a part of it. 

ImageArleth (age 5) in Tumbes, Peru

 

Katie’s Story

Every once in a while, a story crops up in the news that reminds us how important vaccines are. This past week, Katie Dobrow, a teenager from Southern California, shared her story

In February Katie thought she was coming down with the flu. She awoke up with a bad headache, and bruising appeared all over her body. Her mother rushed her to the hospital, where she was told Katie had meningococcal meningitis.

Katie is one of roughly 1,000 people per year in the U.S. who contract meningococcal disease. While rare, the consequences of infection can be devastating.

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by a bacterial infection that can move very quickly – even in otherwise healthy young adults – and is usually severe. In some cases, death can occur within only a few hours. For those who survive, it can cause permanent disability.

The past few months have been a tough battle for Katie physically. Her limbs had to be amputated because of the infection, and she said she’s been in a lot of pain. But despite the challenges, Katie is keeping a positive attitude, and her parents are encouraging people to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease.

Two doses of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) are routinely recommended for adolescents. One dose is given at 11-12 and another at 16.

In Texas, all incoming college students under 30 attending class at a Texas campus are required by law to receive the meningitis vaccine. This is because the bacteria can spread more easily in close quarters, and as a result college students living in dormitories are at a higher risk of infection.

Please take a moment to listen to Katie’s story:

Imagehttp://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Teenager-with-meningococcal-meningitis-on-the-road-to-recovery-213421971.html