5 Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child

baby safety
If you type “baby safety” into the search bar of Amazon.com, thousands of items appear – baby gates, outlet plugs, cabinet locks and SO much more. As parents, we spend time researching “the best of the best” for our children. We keep our baby’s car seat rear-facing in the car, and put him to sleep on his (or her) back, because our pediatrician told us it was the safest. But, as far as safety goes, one of the best ways to protect our babies is to make sure they are up to date on ALL of their vaccinations. How much time has the average parent devoted to researching that topic?

This week we celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Infant Immunization week. So, to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and supporting healthy communities, I thought we’d go back to the basics. Here are five important reasons to vaccinate your infant, from a mom’s perspective:

1. Immunizations can save your child’s life.
Many diseases that once were extremely dangerous (or fatal) to thousands of children have been eliminated completely in our country, and others are close to extinction– primarily due to medical advancements, and safe and effective vaccines. As parents, we will go to the ends of the earth to protect our children from harm. Vaccinations are an easy step to giving them the best future possible.

2. Vaccinations are safe and effective.
Each and every vaccine listed as “recommended” by the CDC undergoes rigorous testing and careful review by scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals. Vaccines undergo far more scrutiny than other pharmaceutical products, and the safety and effectiveness of vaccines are continuously monitored even after the vaccine hits the market. The worst side effects the overwhelming majority of individuals will experience are a little soreness at the injection site, fever or fatigue. And in return, you and your family will be protected from diseases that once used to cause death or disability in thousands of children each year.

3. Immunizing your children protects others around you.
Recently in the United States, vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and pertussis (whooping cough) have been making a comeback. Unfortunately, many people in our country (roughly half a million) are too young or too sick to be immunized, and they have no other choice but to rely on the rest of us for protection. Choosing to vaccinate not only protects your family, but also helps prevent the spread of these diseases to those who cannot protect themselves. See my post on the Tdap and flu vaccines, and how my family members were vaccinated in order to protect my young (and vulnerable) daughter from getting sick in the NICU.

4. Immunizations can save your family time and money.
Vaccine-preventable diseases can result in hospital stays, doctor’s visits, expensive medications, and in more serious cases – disabilities and death. Add in the financial toll of medical bills, lost wages, and time off of work caring for a sick child, it can add up quickly. In comparison, getting vaccinated against these diseases takes no time at all, and is typically covered by insurance. There are even options that provide financial assistance for immunizations to low-income families. Would you rather spend an hour in a doctor’s office every couple of months to vaccinate your infant, or risk spending weeks with them in the hospital fighting a vaccine-preventable disease? The choice seems pretty simple to me.

5. Immunization protects future generations.
If we teach our children the importance and value of immunizations, when they become parents, they will most likely follow suit, protecting their children and those for generations to come. It’s strange for me to think about my future grandchildren (because my daughter is not even a year old) but it is comforting to know that they too will be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines helped to successfully eradicate smallpox off the face of the earth, and we are on the brink of eradicating polio. Thanks to vaccination, diseases that were once commonplace are no longer inevitable for our kids or grandkids. That’s pretty remarkable.

So, when you consider what safety means when it comes to your infant, remember that vaccines are paramount in protecting them from disease, and starting them off on the healthiest foot possible.

Check out our website for more information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, download immunization schedules and access trusted resources regarding immunizations.

Invisible Threat Documentary Is Journalism Done Well

Invisible Threat is an eye-opening 40-minute documentary produced by California high school students that explores the science of vaccination and how fears and misperceptions have led some parents to make dangerous decisions. In recognition of the premiere of Invisible Threat movement in Washington, D.C. on May 1, we are participating in a blog relay to raise awareness of this important issue.  Each day a different blogger will be discussing their personal perspective of the film as part of our 10-day countdown to a kick-off event with national legislators at the Capitol Visitors’ Center in Washington, DC.  Follow along to find out how you can join us in this movement, arrange for a local screening, and continue our fight against infectious diseases.

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by Robyn Correll Carlyle, MPH

Before I became a public health nerd, I was a journalist. I graduated with honors from the best journalism school in the country. And for a while, I chased leads, scrambled to meet deadlines, and rushed at the chance to see my byline in print. My life took me another way – a Peace Corps stint and an MPH — but I never stopped writing. And I will always appreciate a well-reported story.

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Which is why you can imagine my excitement last January when three of the student filmmakers from Invisible Threat were flying out to Texas for our premiere.

In a world where even news legend Katie Couric will cave to the temptation of a (baseless) controversy, the students were thorough and honest about the realities of vaccination and the need for truth in reporting.

They didn’t give a false balance – pitting misinformed anti-vaxers on the same footing as well-educated medical experts. They didn’t give “equal time for both sides” because that’s not the truth. Science lands hard on the side of vaccines, and that’s what they reported.

They didn’t play up any controversy for cheap dramatic effect. There’s plenty of drama in vaccine-preventable diseases, and lots of passion from those who are fighting to combat them. And that’s what the students drew out.

The fact that they were nearly bullied into abandoning the project, and they stood their ground to unearth the real story, is a testament to their talent and integrity as journalists.

So when those students came through the doors of Sundance Cinemas in Houston and took their walk down the red carpet, I couldn’t wait to shake their hands and congratulate them. Because I know how hard it is to be fair. To be balanced. To get the right story, and present it in a way that’s compelling and draws people in.

And those students nailed it.

Congratulations to them, and to the entire CHSTVfilms team, for a job well done. And from one journalist to another? Thank you.

You have the ability to make a difference in our fight against infectious diseases.  Follow our Invisible Threat Blog Relay and find out how you can be a part of the movement. Tomorrow’s post will be hosted by Moms Who Vax.  And be sure to friend the Invisible Threat Facebook and follow the filmmakers on Twitter @InvisThreat.

I Am a Meningitis Survivor and This Is My Story

April 24, 2014 – World Meningitis Day

photo 2 (1)I returned home late last night from Florida where I was involved in a Satellite Media Event.  SMT’s are opportunities for me to sit in one room, do interviews and be picked up by TV/radio markets all across the country. My purpose is to spread awareness on meningitis and that it is a vaccine-preventable disease.  My name is Jamie Schanbaum, I am 25 years old, a student at the University of Texas (graduating in May- woohoo!!) and a meningitis survivor.

In November 2008, while I was in my second year at UT Austin, I was stricken with meningococcal meningitis.  Within 14 hours I went from a perfectly healthy college student – to having to spend the next 7 months in a hospital – to watching my limbs turn from pink, to brown, to black and to ultimately having all my fingers as well as both legs below the knee be amputated. It all happened so fast.  This is just a brief look into the story of my life, but there are so many more unfortunate stories.  I apologize for being so graphic, but it’s important that you understand the severity of this disease.

Meningitis often takes perfectly healthy, vibrant people to face amputation, severe health issues and often death –when there’s a vaccine to protect you from this horrible disease.  I would have taken the vaccine had I known it existed. I learned the hard way there is a vaccine, and there lies my purpose, my drive: I want to educate everyone.

This leads me back to World Meningitis Day and the wonderful opportunity I was given to be spread awareness, to educate and to share my knowledge about bacterial meningitis.  Yesterday I reached out on a national level, and today I’m reaching out on a global platform.  In February I was photographed by renowned photographer Anne Geddes in a campaign titled – Protecting our Tomorrow.  I and 14 other meningitis survivors from all over the world were photographed by Anne Geddes, and today the photos and iBook will be shared globally.  I hope everyone realizes this is a global issue – anyone, anywhere, anytime can be affected by this vaccine-preventable disease.

Please get vaccinated – Prevent What is Preventable.

Jamie Schanbaum – www.thejamiegroup.org

Anne Geddes is book – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/protecting-our-tomorrows/id843351185?ls=1&mt=11

World Meningitis Day

amy purdy2When Amy Purdy began snowboarding at the age of 15, she dreamed of one day making it to the Olympics. But when she was 19, she thought she’d gotten a case of the flu, but she actually had come down with bacterial meningitis, a serious, potentially deadly disease that can progress extremely fast.

Within 24 hours, Amy was hospitalized and placed on life support. Doctors told her parents she only had a 2 percent chance of surviving, but after having both legs amputated just below the knee and receiving a kidney from her father, she pulled through.

Seven months later – and still on dialysis – she started snowboarding again. And this year, Amy proudly represented Team USA as a Paralympic snowboarder at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, winning a bronze medal.

Today, World Meningitis Day, we hope to recognize those impacted by meningitis and help raise awareness about this potentially devastating illness. And it starts with helping individuals and parents better understand this disease and how it can be prevented.

Here are some Q&As about meningitis, and the vaccines available to prevent it.

Q: What is meningitis?
A: Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, usually caused by an infection. There are three types of meningitis.
1) Viral meningitis is fairly common, and usually doesn’t cause serious illness.
2) Fungal meningitis is very, very rare and not contagious.
3) Bacterial meningitis the most serious type of meningitis. Complications include loss of limbs, brain damage, hearing loss, and death. To avoid such devastating complications, it needs to be treated right away.

Q: What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
A: Bacterial meningitis is often accompanied by a headache, stiff neck and sudden fever, and can also result in nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light. In infants, however, these symptoms might be absent or difficult to identify. If you think you or your child may have meningitis, seek medical help as soon as possible.

Q: Who is at risk of developing bacterial meningitis?
A: A person of any age may develop bacterial meningitis, but it is more common in infants, young children and people older than 60. Another at-risk age group is adolescents, like Amy Purdy. Because of their close contact with peers, teens and college students are at a greater risk of contracting the disease.

Q: What causes bacterial meningitis, and how do we prevent it?
A: Bacterial meningitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria. The best defense we have against bacterial meningitis is vaccination. Some of the most common causes of bacterial meningitis are these three vaccine-preventable diseases:
1. Streptococcus pneumonia can cause pneumococcal disease, and is prevented with the PCV vaccine (routinely recommended for children younger than 2 years old) or the PPSV vaccine (recommended for adults aged 65 and older)
2. Haemophilus influenzae type b can be prevented with the Hib vaccine, which is recommended for children under the age of 5 and adults with certain medical conditions
3. Neisseria meningitides can cause meningococcal disease, and is prevented with the MCV4 vaccine, recommended at ages 11 and 16

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If you’re interested in this topic, please also view Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease. This portrait project is a global initiative aimed at raising awareness among parents about the threat of meningococcal disease and the importance of immunization. You can download the eBook for free on the iTunes store.

To read about others whose lives have been affected by meningitis, visit:

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

boarding-pass

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.