You Can Do Something about Measles Outbreaks

This article was written by Karen Ernst and originally posted on Voices for Vaccines. In light of the recent measles outbreaks, we wanted to re-post this article for those looking to find out more about what is going on and what you can do to help.  

As of June 13, we have seen 477 measles cases in the United State this year.

Measles through June 13, 2014

The number of cases is astounding to anyone who pays attention to the news. Here’s what you need to know about measles, the current outbreak, and the MMR vaccine.

  1. 341 of those cases have been in Ohio. It was brought there by an unvaccinated Amish person who had traveled on a mission trip to the Philippines, where measles is running rampant. The mission worker brought the measles back to a largely unvaccinated Amish community, where it has spread for the last three months.
  2. The measles cases are occuring largely among unvaccinated people, 85% of whom refused vaccines (or had parents who refused to vaccinate them) for religious or philosophical reasons.
  3.  Measles is incredibly contagious. An infected person may begin by feeling unwell, with a bit of a fever and maybe a cough. Perhaps that person may go someplace public–maybe a pharmacy or a doctor’s office. 90% of those people who come in contact with him and are not immune to measles will contract the disease, and for two hours after he has left, any people who enter that place who are not immune will likely catch it. And they might pass it along before Patient Zero even realizes that his illness is measles. If our Patient Zero lived in an entirely measles-susceptible town, where no one had been vaccinated or had already lived through measles, he would infect fourteen people every day.
  4. The measles vaccine works. While we are seeing too many cases for the year 2014, keep in mind that before the vaccine was in use:
    • 3-4 million people in the US were infected with measles each year
    • 500 people lost their lives each year because of measles
    • 48,000 people were hospitalized each year
    • And as of 2000, the only cases of measles in the United States were brought in from abroad.
  5. Dr. Paul Offit points out that “we live in a global sea of measles.” We live in a world where measles is a regular occurance, not only in the Philipines, but also in the United Kingdom, France, Ethiopia, and too many other countries to list. Measles is still a scourge in the world,killing 14 people every hour in the year 2012. If we want to keep measles away from home, we have to vaccinate almost everyone at home. (And supporting global measles eradication is a good idea, too.)

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For five points of information, I propose five solutions.

  1. Vaccinate your children, and make sure you have been vaccinated against measles. Being vaccinated is the purest form of advocacy since it strikes a blow against disease itself.
  2. Is your family vaccinated? Let others know! A comment made at the playground during a casual conversation makes vaccinating normal and discussing vaccines socially acceptable. (“Boy, these measles outbreaks are terrible. Glad we are all up-to-date on our vaccines!”) Post photos of your children on social media at their post-immunization ice cream stop (or however else you reward vaccination appointments well done). Whatever you do, just talk about it. Let’s make immunization part of polite conversation again.

To continue reading the full article, click here. 

Summer Camps and Immunizations

campfireThe Summer Solstice on June 21 marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but if you live in the south (like me), you know that summer has been in full swing for weeks now. Kids are out of school, families are flocking to swimming pools, and oh yeah – it’s really hot outside. For many families, summer also means it’s time to gear up for camp. Each camp has their own specifications for packing, but in addition to sleeping bags, bug spray and sunscreen, making sure your child is up to date on their vaccinations is a key part of your preparations for summer camp. It’s one of the easiest ways to keep your camper (and all the kids around them) healthy while they’re away.

Camps these days offer more activities than you could imagine. There’s water sports, indoor games, outdoor games, ropes courses… the list goes on and on. It’s a kid’s dream. But, no matter what your child is into, one thing is for sure at camp– all those kids in close proximity means infections could spread quickly.

Vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and pertussis still occur in many parts of the world – and now are even starting to make a comeback in North America, too. There have been more than 500 cases of measles reported so far this year in 20 states in the US – more than any other year since the disease was declared officially eliminated from the country in 2000 – and the majority of those infected had not been vaccinated.

Measles Cases the US from 1950-2001. Source: CDC.gov

Measles Cases the US from 1950-2001. Source: CDC.gov


Most Americans are fully vaccinated against the measles. But when an infected individual enters a community where pockets of people are not vaccinated, it can spread like wildfire. That’s because measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to mankind. In fact, the virus can live in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours after a contagious individual has left the room.

Thankfully, we have a highly effective vaccine to prevent the measles, but not everyone is eligible to get vaccinated because of age or medical conditions. And there are some individuals (about 1 percent) who are just simply unable to develop sufficient protection even after getting the vaccine. That is why it is so important that each camper (and their families!) be fully up to date with their vaccinations. The more people who are immune, the less likely it is that the disease will be able to circulate.

So ask your child’s pediatrician which vaccinations are recommended for you and your family. The following vaccinations (or boosters) may be recommended depending on your child’s medical history, camp destination, and age. Remember to get the vaccinations in advance, so your child’s body has time to build up immunity.

Tetanus
Pertussis (whooping cough)
Meningitis
Hepatitis A
Measles, Mumps, Rubella
Varicella (chickenpox)

If your child is off to camp this summer, I hope they have a wonderful time! Rest assured that you are doing your part to keep them protected by keeping their vaccinations current. For more information about specific vaccines and the diseases they prevent, visit the Resources page of Immunizeusa.org. Additionally, if someone in your family will be traveling abroad this summer, be sure to read about the travel vaccines they may need to stay protected.

Happy summer to you!

Immunization Heroes: Dr. Carol Baker

The Immunization Partnership asked some of the leading voices championing immunizations — the heroes in the fight against vaccine-preventable disease  – what set you down the path of immunization advocacy? What made you passionate? In short, what is your origin story? Throughout the next few months, we hope to showcase the responses.  


by Carol Baker, MD

When did you become passionate about vaccines? 

Dr. Carol Baker

Dr. Carol Baker

It’s impossible to recall the day, month or even year. The arduous but exciting years of medical training, spurred by the dream of curing, evolved into the realization that my efforts often failed to dispatch death and disability resulting from infections such as meningitis, measles, polio, pertussis, hepatitis B, and even diphtheria. Maybe the first flicker of desire to undo nature’s seemingly random infectious disease afflictions was during the summer after my first year in medical school. I was assigned the task of collecting blood samples from newborn infants with congenital rubella syndrome. Once equipped with this routine skill, I would ponder the rooms filled with purple spotted babies staring blindly through cataracts, sensing the pain in their parents seeing eyes. Or perhaps it was the healthy 14-year-old girl at Los Angeles County Hospital, shopping with friends a few hours before my futile attempts to restore the damage already done by meningococcal meningitis. Possibly even the rotation in a rehabilitation hospital filled with iron lungs as nurses laughed at my poor first attempts to place patients into the coffin-like but life-saving machines for children and adults with polio. In reality, it was probably the accumulation of medicine’s limitations that catapulted me into realizing that prevention trumped treatment.

As a newly minted physician, I loved babies with their clean slate, their joy at fixing and following on their mothers’ faces and promise of that first word, first step, first day of school and all the firsts of growing up. During my pediatric residency in Houston, ecstasy in the nursery was replaced by a new infectious disease, a sudden surge of meningitis cases in infants less than 3 months of age. And these babies had a new kind of meningitis later proven to be caused by group B Streptococcus (GBS), a previously unknown human pathogen, and still the most frequent cause of young infant meningitis. My grief over the death of 25% of these patients and agony in seeing the disabilities that lingered in up to half of the survivors led me to “enlighten” and launch a war. I did so by puzzle solving: publishing a case series describing the mode of infections and clues to early diagnosis. Then I flew to the “home” of streptococcal research, the Rockefeller Institute in New York, to learn more about GBS from the brilliant and generous Rebecca Lancefield (the “mother” of streptococci). What I really wanted though was to stop infection before it happened (prevention). This resulted in more training — this time at Harvard Medical School where I completed the first step in developing a GBS vaccine, defining the pieces of the bacteria that allowed disease in otherwise perfectly healthy babies. While scientifically successful, I was beyond naïve with my plan to prevent GBS infant disease by vaccinating pregnant women. Like Sisyphus each rock of achievement in this pursuit was pushed down by the scientifically senseless, theoretical concern for safety. The end of this 4-decade pursuit has finally come as my vaccine is finally in commercial development.

With the delay in my ambition for a GBS vaccine, I turned my efforts at doing everything in my power to help other newly developed and licensed vaccines be administered to future children, so that they would not be afflicted by vaccine-preventable diseases. I did so through my policy and advocacy work with the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, becoming its President in 2009, and most recently as Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My work will never be done, but I continue the fight to keep my old enemies (e.g., measles), something which could be defeated if recommended vaccines for children were not missed or avoided.


Dr. Carol Baker is a Professor, Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where her research is focused on neonatal infections and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Finding your Voice as a Vaccinating Parent

megaphoneWhen asked whether or not you vaccinate your children – and why – what specifically do you say? I asked several of my “mom” friends this very question over the weekend, and I realized, although many of their answers were different, there was one common thread between them.

For parents of young children, choosing whether or not to vaccinate is a choice just like breastfeeding versus formula, or cloth diapers versus disposable. I have researched the pros and cons of most every decision I have made for my daughter, and I have found that there are very strong opinions on both sides of most any issue. Just visit a message board (for example) comparing working mothers to stay-at-home moms. The working moms feel very strongly about their decision to return to the office, and the stay-at-home moms are equally as vocal on the opposite end of the spectrum. When it comes to vaccinations, we as mothers must find our voices and take a stance in our beliefs.

So, the question posed to my mom friends was: “why did you choose to vaccinate your child?” Some of their responses are as follows:
“Because my son’s pediatrician recommended it, and I trust her medical background. She must know what’s best for my child.”
“Because I have heard that diseases like whooping cough and measles are making a comeback. My daughter is exposed to a lot of kids during the week, and you just don’t know who has gotten their shots. I refuse to let her walk around unprotected.”
“Because, although my kids are older and healthy, we know plenty of families with babies. We vaccinate to protect ourselves and those that haven’t had their shots yet.”

Even though each mom had a different approach to their answer, their sentiments were all the same. They wanted to protect their children, and keep them safe and healthy. That is probably something we all strive for, but how often do we speak about vaccinations in our circle of friends, or moms groups?

So many families have sadly been affected by vaccine-preventable diseases. (Read some of their stories here) I believe it is our duty, as mothers, to use our VOICES and advocate immunization, so that no child has to suffer from a disease that is easily preventable. Just simply knowing the facts and learning how to dispell myths using trusted resources may change someone’s mind and save a family from heartache. That – in itself – is worth it to me.

Visit the Resources page of Immunizeusa.org to educate yourself, and put your “voice” to work!

The Protector

Hello MOMmunization readers. In honor of Father’s Day this weekend, my husband is guest posting today. Enjoy!
fathers-day-vector3

Before I became a father last June, my life was – for the most part – carefree. Of course work was busy, and life brought ups and downs, but until my daughter arrived, the only parental duties I knew were feeding and walking my furry four-legged child, (my dog) Baxter. Everything changed in the best way possible when Stella arrived, and overnight I became a fierce protector of someone I just met.

This momentous event brought about a flood of feelings – pride, mixed with the weight of responsibility, and a newfound knowledge that I would do anything in the world to protect this tiny baby from harm. Because she was born 13 weeks early, Stella’s doctors were extremely concerned about the dangers that pertussis and flu (along with just germs in general) could present. Stella’s hospital stay would extend well into cold and flu season, and we didn’t want to take any chances. My wife and I required all family members and visitors that would come into contact with her to have their pertussis and flu shots, educating them on the importance of vaccinations to someone in her delicate state. My family joked that I was the “vaccine police” because I was a complete stickler about immunizations (along with thorough hand washing and house cleaning). Did we go overboard with this requirement? For some, maybe. For me, we were dealing with precious cargo, and were willing to do everything we could to prevent compromising her fragile immune system. It was the right choice for our family, and it paid off. Stella survived cold and flu season without even the slightest runny nose.

As Stella got older, and was ready for vaccines of her own, I was admittedly a little skeptical of all the vaccines on the recommended list. I drew somewhat of a (naïve) parallel between vaccines and antibiotics, which I believe can sometimes be overused. Stella was still so small and young – did she really need all of this medication in her body? However, after talking to our pediatrician and learning about the benefits of immunizations, I changed my tune. She walked us through the risks of forgoing immunizations and gave some realistic expectations about what could happen if we were go that route. I realized when it came to protecting my daughter, I wanted to do everything I possibly could (short of putting her inside a bubble) to keep her safe. And that definitely included vaccinations.

Although the past year with our daughter has been a rollercoaster ride, we have been blessed with a healthy little girl who will turn one this month. I think our doctors’ attention to detail, our crash course in “all things preemie,” and of course, the vaccinations administered to both Stella and our family, played a major part in her current success and overall health. I truly feel like a lucky man to be spending my first Father’s Day with a healthy, happy, beautiful daughter.

Immunization Heroes

superheroHero. What comes to mind when you hear this word? A muscled, caped-crusader? A masked vigilante? Maybe someone defeating the bad guy with a BAM! or a POW! But as the adage goes, not all heroes wear masks. And sometimes protecting the innocent has more to do with words said than punches thrown.

We at MOMmunizations wanted to highlight those we consider to be heroes in the world of vaccination by inviting them to share their story as part of our Immunization Heroes series.

Dr. Peter Hotez talked about his time as a young scientist in the laboratory, working hard to lay the groundwork for a future vaccine against hookworm. His path led him to become one of the foremost voices in the development of vaccines for neglected tropical diseases, and a global spokesperson for the promotion of vaccination.

Dorit Reiss shared her story of how stumbling across a comment on a blog set the course for her to become an advocate for science-based information regarding immunization online. And through her blog, she has become a voice for those affected by vaccine-preventable diseases.

Both have faced harsh criticism for being vocal about the need for (and science supporting) vaccination. But that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to use their voice to advocate on behalf of immunization.
And they’re not alone.

Healthcare professionals that ensure their patients receive the proper vaccines on time, and public health professionals working to make certain everyone has access to vaccination, are heroes, too. They are all working toward the same goal – improving the health of our communities and our kids.

As a parent with a child under one year of age, these heroes are invaluable. Spreading the truth about the benefits of immunizations (and the science behind them) saves lives, and protects those too young or too sick to be vaccinated.

Immunization heroes come in many different forms, and I am grateful for all of them. But the title doesn’t just apply to scientists and physicians. YOU, as a parent, can be an immunization hero simply by sharing your support of vaccination with your friends and family. In a world as noisy as ours, sometimes it’s easy to think our voices don’t matter. But yours can. As research has shown, the attitudes and beliefs regarding vaccines in parents’ social networks can play a key role in whether or not they decide to vaccinate their kids.

So speak up. You can show your support and enthusiasm for immunizations by participating in our Proud to Be Immunized project. And by directing your friends and family to trusted, science-based resources.

How do you promote immunization in your community? Let us know! Send a note to mommunizations@gmail.com, or comment below.

Proud to be Immunized!

It’s no surprise that we here at MOMmunizations are big fans of immunization. It’s one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and those you love, and we’re proud that our children are up to date.

And with the majority of children in the US vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, we know we’re not alone.

We’d like to hear the voices of our readers who vaccinate their kids, and take pride in immunizations. Share your support and enthusiasm by sending us a picture of your “fully vaccinated” child. All we need is a picture (from your phone or computer) and the child’s first name and age. We’ll put the photos together in a video to post here on our site. Please send pics and information to mommunizations@gmail.com.img_09102

 

 

Skipping Vaccines is Bad Science