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!

Happy Trails To You…

…until we meet again.  It is with a heavy heart that I post this, my last “official” blog with the Immunization Partnership.  It’s been almost 2 years since I began working with TIP and what a journey it has been.  When I first began, I was a mother of two who believed in vaccination.  I felt it was important, but looking back I had no idea the real impact that vaccines have on our world.  Two weeks after beginning work on this blog my daughter was hospitalized for 4 days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for what turned out to be rotavirus.  Subsequently, we learned that she had mistakenly not received vaccination against this vaccine-preventable disease.  From that point on it all became very real for me.  Vaccines were not just a recommendation.  They were necessary.

I have had the opportunity to meet with award winning authors, brilliant physicians, and respected politicians who have made a huge impact and dedicated themselves to spreading the message that vaccines save lives.  My heart has broken as I have spoken with parents who undoubtedly have weathered life’s most horrific storm through the loss or injury of a child all due to a vaccine-preventable disease.  I am honored to have worked with these individuals and am truly inspired by their ability to push through their own personal tragedies and use their experiences to save countless families from traveling the same path.  To each of you I say a special “Thank You.”

thank-you-note11I must also express my gratitude to the amazing group of women who work at TIP.  Your selfless work has impacted more lives than you will ever know.  You have prevented illness and saved lives.  Your commitment to protect communities and your mission to “eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating evidence-based public policy and promoting immunization best practices” is commendable to say the least.  No words can describe how grateful I am to have had this opportunity to work with each of you.  You allowed me to use my mind and my passion for writing for an important cause.  Just as significant, I have made friendships that I value and cherish.  “Thank you” simply does not express my appreciation, but for a lack of better words… Thank You.  Each of you.

What began as something I thought was important has become a true life passion not only for me but for my family as well.  Our eyes have been opened to the truth and that truth is that vaccines are vital to the health and well-being of our families, our communities, our nation, and our world.  While my journey to further educate myself and others about the importance of immunizations will not end, my documentation of it does.  With that I would like to welcome TIPs newest mommy-blogger, my personal friend, Courtney Dozier.  You have an amazing story to tell and I cannot wait to watch your journey unfold.

I am happy to say that my husband and I will continue to be involved with this amazing organization and do our part to encourage people to protect themselves and their families.  We look forward to seeing many of you in the near future.  And always remember to prevent what’s preventable.