Monday, December 23, 2013

HPV Vaccine Continues to Draw Negative Attention

HPV has continued to draw negative attention through several media outlets. A video has been making the rounds on Facebook and Katie Couric presented a very slanted view of the vaccine on her talk show. Both incidents increase the fear and mistrust of this important vaccine.

A video from Jenny Thompson of the Health Sciences Institute was widely circulated on Facebook and other platforms stating that Gardasil (an HPV vaccine) is causing deaths in women. The video focuses on the political and moral issues of the HPV vaccine and does not use any sound science., a website dedicated to finding the truth on the Internet released several statements verifying the false origins of the video.

Katie Couric has long been known as a trusted voice in the media, and is perhaps best known for her on-air colonoscopy in 2000 after losing her husband to colon cancer. However, her recent show, “The HPV Vaccine Controversy” followed in the destructive footsteps of Jenny McCarthy. Couric shared the story of a young woman who died 18 days after receiving her final HPV shot, but as Joanne Bamberger writes, “…it created a faux controversy that could put young girls across the country at risk.”

Bamberger further points out that the show kept most of the science about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy on their website. And while Couric’s own daughters have been vaccinated for HPV, by asking the question of whether the vaccine is safe, she validates parents fears and neglects the dangers of parents opting out of vaccines for their children.

Even more disappointing is the news that producers from Couric’s show had all of the facts, yet chose to ignore sound science. Seth Mnookin of MIT had several exchanges with the producers prior to the show on the dangers of declining vaccination rates.  Mnookin points out that more than 25,00 new cancers attributed to HPV occur every year in the United States and that 12,000 of these are cervical cancer in females. He also notes that a study recently found no link to short or long-term health problems in 296,000 girls who received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.

“So did Couric and her producers downplay the real – and uncontroversial – information about vaccines to boost a fake controversy just to boost ratings? …I can’t help wondering whether that’s exactly what happened, and how many women will pay the price,” Bamberger concludes.

Every year, 14 million new people are infected with HPV. The HPV vaccine is the safest and best method we have to decrease that number. Those with concerns about the vaccine should consult their doctor instead of relying on the media.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anti-Vaccine Cartoon

Pat Bagley of Cagle Cartoons published the following cartoon about the anti-vaccine movement on November 12th. His image captures the truth about the anti-vaccine movement and the diseases making a comeback because of it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

HPV Fears Circulating

Fears about the HPV vaccine have been circulating on the Internet again, in large part because of an article that was originally published in 2009. The negative publicity that the vaccine has been receiving scares parents and is potentially very harmful to those that go unvaccinated.

In 2009, Dr. Diane Harper, one of the lead scientists that developed the HPV vaccine was invited to speak at the 4th International Public Conference on Vaccination. Although the name sounds reputable, the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), one of the oldest and best-established anti-vaccine groups, holds the conference. While speaking at the conference, Dr. Harper made some comments about Gardasil (an HPV vaccine) that were misconstrued in an article by Natural News. This original article has re-circulated many times, causing fear in parents.

Dr. Harper clarified her statements and tried to correct the misconceptions. Her recent writings, including a 2012 peer-reviewed article, show that she is very supportive of Cervarix, and her comments at the conference may have been based on the fact that she saw more promise with Cervarix than Gardasil.

In a blog post on the Skeptical Raptor, the author notes:
Dr. Harper is an advocate for the vaccine, and has remained steadfastly in support of the vaccine over the past few years. She has some nuanced concerns about the cost-effectiveness of the vaccine if women have regular screenings for pre-cancerous cells, but she has never said that it was unsafe or ineffective. And many researchers disagree with her reliance on pre-screening, because even pre-cancerous cells may cause significant issues to reproductive health–in other words, preventing even milder forms of HPV-induced diseases add significantly to the overall benefit of the vaccine…Gardasil saves lives, and Dr. Diane Harper says that.

HPV recently made the news in other areas too. Two young women in Wisconsin, who are sisters, have filed a court case claiming the aluminum in the HPV vaccine caused an autoimmune response that led to premature ovarian failure.

Dr. Elizabeth J. Neary of Madison, Wisconsin counters their claim and states: “The aluminum adjuvant used in the vaccine was used in tetanus vaccines as early as the 1930s and continues to be used today. Aluminum is in our water, food (baking powder, cheese) and medications (antacids). The average daily diet contains 20 times the amount of aluminum contained in this one vaccine. “ She continues to warn that if fewer young women get the HPV vaccine, we will definitely see more young women get cervical cancer.

“The vaccine is spectacularly safe and effective. It’s been used in millions and millions of people around the world with essentially no unexpected or unusual, abnormal or serious affects,” Dr. Thomas Broker of Alabama adds. “The fact that it’s two sisters presumably vaccinated at different times, different batches, yet later coming down with the same problem suggests very much it was likely a genetic bases of that disesase.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 57 million people got the HPV vaccine over the last seven years. They further state that the HPV vaccine will prevent some of the nearly 26,000 new cases of cancers caused each year by HPV. Vaccine Watch urges readers to carefully screen Internet material and check sources, not all information on the Internet is accurate. Parents with concerns about the HPV vaccine should speak with their physician or child’s pediatrician.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Natural News Downplays Meningitis

The meningitis outbreak at Princeton University in New Jersey has caused a lot of concern for parents, school, and health officials recently. Seven people have been diagnosed with the rare Type B meningitis since March, for which there is no approved U.S. vaccine.  Bacterial meningitis like type B can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can cause mental disabilities, hearing loss, paralysis and death.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave permission for the vaccine Bexsero to be imported. Bexsero vaccinates against type B meningitis and is already being used in Europe and Australia.

Natural News recently published a blog post claiming that seven cases of a disease were hardly an epidemic and that it was irrational urgency to push an unapproved emergency vaccine.

Natural News goes on to seek the advice of Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, and ABIHM, who calls the meningitis infections at Princeton a media-hype. She continues, and “recommends that concerned students simply get more rest, drink more clean water and avoid sharing food and beverages with their friends.” Her final recommendation is that students take in plenty of vitamin C and vitamin D for strong immune support.

In an article for USA Today, Jason Schwartz of Princeton’s Center for Human Values states that health authorities “wouldn’t make this decision (to import Bexsero) lightly. It reflects the assessment of gravity of the unfolding public health threat here on campus and experts’ judgment of the benefits of this vaccine on helping to minimize or eliminate this risk.” Schwartz is a research associate in bioethics who studies vaccine policy.

Meningitis bacteria are spread by coughing, sneezing, and kissing, and can easily spread in crowded conditions like dorm rooms. All students living in dorms are required to have a meningitis vaccine, but it doesn’t cover type B. Princeton students will have the option of receiving a Bexsero vaccine in early December and a booster in February. School officials are also telling students to wash their hands, cover their coughs and not to share drinking glasses and eating utensils.

By downplaying the severity of meningitis, Natural News is creating a potential health crisis. Meningitis is serious and can cause death in a matter of days. The irresponsible reporting of Natural News could be detrimental to student’s health. Vaccine Watch encourages anyone concerned about meningitis to speak with his or her physician.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jenny McCarthy Causes Whooping Cough

Juilia Ioffe wrote a candid blog post for New Republic about coming down with whooping cough at age 31 and the perils associated with this vaccine preventable disease. “I have been coughing for 72 days. Not on and off coughing, but continuously, every day and every night, for two and a half months. And not just coughing, but whooping: doubled over, body clenched, sucking violently for air, my face reddening and my eyes watering. Sometimes, I cough so hard, I vomit. Other times, I pee myself.”

Ioffe continues to describe her symptoms and the odd and embarrassing situations it has created for her. She states, “And while my having pertussis at my age seems absurd, it can also be tragic: in babies, the infection can easily be fatal.” Ioffe notes that whooping cough had been conquered in the developed world until the anti-vaccination movement frightened parents with propaganda about autism. Vaccination has now become another consumer choice, like drinking coconut water.

“The problem is that it (vaccination) is not an individual choice; it is a choice that acutely affects the rest of us,” Ioffe continues. A recent study in Pediatrics indicated that areas with high concentrations of conscientious vaccine objectors were 2.5. times more likely to have an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough). In Ioffe’s case, she was vaccinated as a child, but the vaccine wears off by adulthood. In the past, this wasn’t an issue because children were vaccinated. However, she came into contact with an unvaccinated child, who had the disease and spread it to her.

Ioffe concludes: “I understand your wanting to raise your own children as you see fit, but you’re selfishly jeopardizing more than your own children. …what gives you denialists the right to put my health at risk – to cause me to catch a debilitating, humiliating, and frightening cough that, two months after I finished my last course of antibiotics, still makes me convulse several times a day…”

After reading Ioffe’s posts, Razib Khan wrote a blog postfor Discover about the pressure he and his wife experienced from their peer networks not to vaccinate. He recalls that they were able to resist and rebuff peer pressure because of their strong scientific backgrounds. He also notes that he can imagine someone with less of a scientific background trusting the people they normally trust – their peer network – on vaccination. 

Khan suggests that the denialism be countered by shaming and recommends parents investigate the rate of vaccination in their community. If the vaccination rate isn’t high, he recommends moving away from the dangerous critical mass, and telling people why you are moving.

Vaccine preventable diseases like whooping cough have devastating consequences. Parents should be aware that these vaccines have a purpose. Vaccine Watch encourages parents to consult their pediatrician about vaccine choices.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Anti-Vaxxer Appointed to FDA Vaccine Committee

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently appointed Stephanie Christner, Doctor of Osteopathy, to the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC). Dr. Christner is serving as the voting consumer representative on the twelve-member committee. FDA has charged this committee with reviewing and evaluating vaccine safety and effectiveness. The committee also reviews appropriate use of vaccines and biological products intended for public use, including clinical trial and other data submitted by drug companies seeking licensure of new vaccines.

Vaccine Watch and many other organizations are concerned by the FDA’s choice of Dr. Christner because she is an active advocate against vaccines. She currently serves as a board member for the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which is an anti-vaccine organization that regularly spreads vaccine misinformation. In 2010 she co-founded a company that specializes in allergy, GMO and preservative-free foods. She also has a clinical practice in psychiatry and neurofeedback.

In 2009, Dr. Christener’s infant daughter died and she blamed vaccines. Vaccine Watch and others are sympathetic in the matchless and devastating loss of a child. However, she appears unmovable in her belief that vaccines caused the death of the child, despite a lack of data to support her belief. Dr. Christener described her ordeal in the anti-vaccination film “The Greater Good;” a movie that has been thoroughly dismantled for being deceptive and misleading. “The Greater Good” is an anti-vaccine propaganda piece and passed on blatant misinformation.

The FDA states that it recruits qualified experts with minimal conflicts of interest but they made a mistake in appointing Dr. Christner to the VRBPAC committee. The FDA further states:

            Members and the chair are selected by the Commissioner or the designee
            from among authorities knowledgeable in the fields of immunology,
molecular biology, rDNA, virology, bacteriology, epidemiology or biostatistics, allergy, preventative medicine, infectious diseases, pediatrics,
microbiology and biochemistry.

Dr. Christner’s appointment to the VRBPAC committee has given false legitimacy to the anti-vaccination position and the long-term effects could be detrimental. As we struggle against the outbreak of preventable disease and blatant propaganda against vaccines, FDA should be even more scrupulous in ensuring the objectivity of their appointees.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nurses Against Vaccines

The Internet has the ability to educate and inform people on many issues in a short period of time. Unfortunately, the same tools that can promote education can also be misused and spread fear and lies. The anti-vaccine movement uses the Internet to spread fear and distrust of vaccines in people.

One startling group is Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines. Their Facebook page has over 4,000 likes and is regularly updated with posts promoting people to speak out against mandatory vaccines and sharing negative vaccine stories. They sold t-shirts on their Facebook page to raise money to file for 501(c)3 non-profit status. Their website is scheduled to premier this Friday.

It’s important to note that while this group of nurses is particularly vocal, they represent a minority. A study conducted in April on healthcare personnel found that 92% of physicians said they had gotten a flu vaccine, 89% of pharmacists did, 88.5% of nurse practitioners/physician assistants were vaccinated and 84.8% of nurses as well. Unfortunately, the groups that vaccinate are not the most vocal.

Susan Rowher wrote a blog post for the Los Angeles Times stating that it’s time for doctors to take a stand. A recent study published by the Journal of Pediatrics found that how doctors phrase vaccine questions sway hesitant parents. In general, the study found that when doctors told parents it was time to vaccinate and answered questions; there was a higher vaccine rate versus when they asked what parents wanted to do about vaccines.

Rowher encourages doctors to answer parents’ questions, noting that parents are swamped with information and a barrage of choices for their children. She also notes that parents will meet opposition to vaccines in many locations – from the Internet to a playgroup. However, with outbreaks of whooping cough and measles being linked to vaccine refusals, it’s time for a new approach.

“Doctors and health professionals need to take a stand in the fight against the anti-vaccination movement by taking back some of their expertise,” Rowher notes. “The abundance of information available online has instilled a sense that we are all experts just by Googling. But let us not forget that a search session on a Web browser cannot replace the years of training and research that come with scientific and medical expertise.”

Veronica McNally, a parent from Michigan is encouraging others to vaccinate their children after she and her husband lost their twelve-week old daughter Francesca to whooping cough. “Some states have seen between a 500% to 1,000% increase in this disease and what is alarming about it, additionally, is that it’s often misdiagnosed and under diagnosed,” McNally states. The Franny Strong Foundation offers information for both parents and health care professionals.

Another mother had all three of her children come down with whooping cough and found out how terrible it really is. She learned first hand why it is called the 100-day cough. She blogs about the guilt of having her children become ill because she and her husband chose not to vaccinate them, and of watching her youngest son vomit multiple times per day.

Vaccine Watch encourages all of those who vaccinate to talk with friends and family about why they chose vaccines. Those who are hesitant about vaccines should speak with their doctor about their concerns. While the Internet is useful for many things, it does not replace the years of medical experience and education doctors have.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Propaganda of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Photo: Wikimedia

The Internet can be a great source of information. It can also be an unfortunate source of propaganda. There are no regulations on what is posted on the Internet and many people and websites take full advantage of this.

Natural News recently published an article stating that the whooping cough vaccine can cause brain damage and death. The article was published in response to Missouri offering a free vaccine after approximately 41,000 cases of whooping cough occurred in the U.S. in 2012. There were less than 19,000 cases in 2011.  Both and Natural News advocate natural remedies and state that vaccine dangers outweigh the risk of actually getting the disease.

In yet another propaganda article, Natural News contends that 98 million Americans were given polio vaccines contaminated with a cancer-causing virus and claim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admit this. The link to the article isn’t on CDC’s web site, because Natural News claims CDC removed it. They have a link to an archived copy of the article that doesn’t work. Natural News lists their sources for both of these articles – but all of the sources are either their own articles or other propaganda sites. No real science or doctors are quoted.

At Natural Blaze, Christina England blames vaccines for infertility problems in women. She states that thousands of women are infertile because of vaccines and that governments are using vaccines in women as fertility control guinea pigs. Her sources also fail to include doctors or sound science. England is also co-author of the book on Shaken Baby Syndrome with discredited Dr. Harold Buttram.

In a final case of anti-vaccination propaganda, the Tap Blog states that the Hepatitis B vaccine killed three newborn babies in Vietnam, although the reports hadn’t been confirmed when the article was published.  The blog contends that children shouldn’t be receiving the vaccine because its an adult disease – and that there are no horror stories of children contracting the disease. The blog again fails to offer any sources with real science or the reasons the Hepatitis B vaccine is necessary.

Contradicting that blog post, Taiwanese researchers report a 90 percent reduction in deaths from complications of hepatitis B since the country began its infant vaccination program in 1984. Hepatitis B can be spread from mothers to newbords and there are 350 million chronic carriers of hepatitis B in the world, with most in the Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. 12 million Americans (or 1 in 20 people) have been infected, with 100,000 new infections every year.

The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local physician are the most reliable sources for vaccine safety information. Internet articles about vaccines should be studied carefully and sources checked – many of the scare tactics used in these articles are not true and can be detrimental to your child’s safety.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Name Can Be Misleading

Harold Buttram, MD
A name can lend credibility to an organization, when it really shouldn’t. The International Medical Council on Vaccination posted an article earlier this year written in 2011 by Harold Buttram, MD and Catherine Frompovich stating that vaccines are turning children’s immune systems inside out. Citing the research of Russell Blaylock, the article claims that repeated stimulation of the brain’s immune system results in intense reactions. All of this is completely false.

The International Medical Council on Vaccination sounds like a legitimate organization, but looking through the history of their site, Vaccine Watch found they aren’t. They have a history of not publishing debates and articles that don’t support their views. Many of the professionals on the International Medical Council on Vaccination site, chiropractors, homeopaths, and doctors, are anti-vaccine activists.

Buttram has been advocating against vaccines for years. Earlier in his career, he blamed Shaken Baby Syndrome on vaccines. The first three sources of the article are all from Russell Blaylock, MD, who claims on his personal website that alphabet organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can’t be trusted.

The article details cellular and humoral immunity. Buttram contends that vaccination establishes the humoral system as dominant, which he claims is the reverse of the natural immunologic scheme that humans evolved with. He further claims that immune systems may be going through progressive atrophy from disuse without the challenges of “minor childhood diseases.” 

Buttram goes on to state, “As a matter of opinion, vaccinations for chickenpox and mumps were totally uncalled for, as they were almost always benign illnesses that likely were serving a useful and positive role in priming and strengthening cellular immunity and response mechanisms.” Buttram never had to deal with the painful and uncomfortable situation children with mumps or chicken pox face.

He then states that death from diseases like measles and whooping cough declined before the vaccines were introduced and that improvements in sanitation and the introduction of antibiotics were more important than vaccines. Again, this is a false statement.

The CDC addresses many of the misconceptions Buttram brings up on their website. For instance, looking at a graph on the rate of measles in the United States from 1950-2001 you see peaks and valleys and the disease rate holding steady in the range of 500,000 cases per year.  When the vaccine was introduced the rate dropped down to near 0 and has remained there.

Every day, the immune systems of babies and children successfully fight off millions of antigens.  Vaccines have antigens from a weakened or killed germ in a fraction of the number that the normal child encounters every day. Vaccination saves lives and prevents serious disease outbreaks. Distorting facts and spreading misinformation like the article in International Medical Council on Vaccination is irresponsible.  Parents with questions about vaccination should speak with their child’s physician.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Misinformation Threatens Pentavalent Vaccine Use

In September, a doctor filed public interest litigation in the Supreme Court calling for a ban on the pentavalent vaccine. This vaccine is a five-in-one shot that combines hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus with a new vaccine for Haemophilus influenze type b (Hib). The doctor and critics claim that the pentavalent vaccine is killing children because 21 children in India have died. However, no causative link has been found and critics continue to use fear-mongering to threaten lives.

Hib is a major cause of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia in the Philippines, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. According to Unicef, 177 countries incorporate the Hib vaccine used in pentavalent in their immunization program. Indonesia recently introduced pentavalent into its national vaccine program. Around 8.2 million doses of the pentavalent vaccine have been administered in India since 2009.

Critics have continued to spread misinformation by linking the vaccine to children’s deaths, and this threatens the lives of more children.  Unicef says that 1.66 million children in India die every year from pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition and complications at birth. All of these deaths are preventable.

T. John Jacob is a retired professor of clinical virology at Christian Medical College in India and states that critics are putting children at risk. “Disgruntled doctors misusing data combined with an irresponsible press can damage public opinion and lead policymakers into panicked decisions that are not based on scientific evidence. The consequences can be dangerous and long lasting,” Jacob states.

He also notes that any intervention can carry risk – but not always because of the product. For instance, automobiles aren’t always blamed for deaths in automobile accidents.

Grant LaFleche from The Standard in Canada stated in a recent blog post that the anti-vaccination movement should be held responsible through fines or some other accountability method. He referenced the measles and whooping cough outbreaks and notes, “Dangerous and sometimes lethal diseases were controlled through the use of vaccines. To continue to undo that progress means increased health-care costs, more sick people and more preventable deaths.”

Vaccines are one of the greatest scientific inventions of our time. Vaccine Watch encourages everyone to seek answers to their questions from reputable sources and to analyze all of the facts in articles that attempt to increase fear of vaccines.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Vaccines, Infants and Court

Numerous scientific studies have proven that there is no link between vaccines and autism. However, sound science has not prevented people from claiming vaccines caused their child’s autism. Vaccine Court, or the Federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, settled two separate cases to children suffering various conditions earlier this year.  Although the cases had no merit, they have been misinterpreted because they were settled.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), which is the defendant in vaccine court, conceded the cases because they couldn’t dedicate any more resources to defending them.

Huffington Post and the website VacTruth reported the case of Ryan Mojabi, a ten-year old boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Ryan received the MMR shot in December 2003 and left days after the shot for Tehran.   While in Tehran, he was admitted to the hospital with measles like rash, high fever and other symptoms.  The doctor in Tehran said the symptoms were most likely the result of the MMR vaccine.  It was determined he had encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, and later he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The case was unpublished, so the information surrounding Ryan’s vaccination and autism struggle is limited.  However, it was noted that despite his adverse reactions to the December 2003 vaccine and subsequent hospitalization while overseas, that he continued to receive vaccines through 2005.  It was also noted that he had adverse reactions following all of the vaccinations.  These two statements raised a lot of questions for Vaccine Watch. 

The second case involves a little girl named Emily Moller.  Her case has been in court for the last ten years, since her mother claimed that the DTaP vaccine Emily received at 15 months led to a seizure disorder, encephalitis and later, a diagnosis of ASD.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that autism is an urgent health concern and supports comprehensive research.  CDC is focusing on understanding ASD, advancing research for causes and treatments, and improving early detection.  There are still many unknowns about autism, including if encephalitis and autism are linked.

Natural Society reported a third case, where a family was awarded $475,000 after their daughter died from an auto-immune disease they claim was caused by the hepatitis b vaccine.  Natural Society argues that the hepatitis b vaccine should not be given because there are too many risks.

The CDC website states that 12.5 million Americans have been infected with hepatitis b at some point in their lifetime.  This serious virus can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer.  Lifelong infections are more probable in those infected during infancy. 

CDC states that vaccination continues so that diseases can’t make a comeback. While autism is more common than it once was, numerous studies have proven that vaccines and autism are not linked. Parents should discuss any concerns they have with their child’s pediatrician.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flu Shots for Everyone

Last year, four influenza vaccines were available to the public. But as technology expands – so do the options and six different flu vaccines will be available this season. “Instead of a one-size fits all approach, we are moving to vaccines…for individual patients,” states Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group.  “The flip side of that,” he continues, “is that this will be a confusing year.” Doctors and patients may have questions about which vaccine is best for them.

The six vaccines available include: an egg-free shot, a micro-needle shot, a nasal spray, a high-dosage shot, and two forms of the standard shot. The egg-free shot is for those with egg allergies, the micro-needle shot is for people afraid of needles – it is less painful and only penetrates the skin. The nasal spray is for toddlers and children, while the high-dosage shot is for senior citizens. The standard shot comes in a three-strain version and a four-strain version. The four-strain version can cost up to 30% more than the three-strain version.

Statistics report that up to 20% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu every year. By creating new shots that reach more people, medical professionals hope to get more than the usual 40% of the population immunized this year. Dr. Michael Shaw of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in a few years, all of the vaccines will offer the four-strain protection at a standard price, and concludes that more vaccine options will lead to fewer flu cases. Fewer flu cases can save both lives and health care costs.

CDC states that approximately 24,000 people die from the flu each year and recommend the vaccine for nearly everyone 6 months and older. An estimated 139 million does of flu vaccine will be produced this year, with 30 million of those being the four-strain flu virus. The CDC estimates that as many as 485 deaths will be prevented by the four-strain vaccine.

In an effort to encourage vaccination, medical professionals across the country are getting creative. For instance, Vanderbilt University hosted its third annual Flulapalooza on September 25th. The event lasts for twelve hours and offers free flu vaccines to faculty, staff and students.

Most health insurance programs and Medicare cover flu shots and some plans don’t require a co-pay. This simple preventative measure can save you from battling a nasty case of the flu or ending up in the hospital. Vaccine Watch encourages everyone to consult his or her physician about getting a flu shot this fall.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SMART Vaccines

Fears about vaccine side effects are one of the common reasons those who choose not to vaccinate use. Researchers at UConn and UC Davis recently developed a Safety Mechanism Assisted by the Repressor of Tetracycline or “SMART” virus vector for use in vaccines and therapeutics.  Tetracycline is an antibiotic commonly prescribed to treat bacterial infections.

Paulo Verardi is a pathobiologist at UConn with the goal of making vaccines highly safe. “The most effective vaccines tend to be live replicating viruses, the so-called live attenuated vaccines. Vaccina virus, which is used as the smallpox vaccine is a good example While most vaccines are both safe and effective, those based on live viruses can cause problems in some people, so we designed a safety mechanism that can be activated by the administration of tetracycline by making minimal genetic modifications to vaccina virus.”

The smallpox vaccine is still given to members of the U.S. armed forces and first responders because of concerns of smallpox’s use as a bioweapon. The SMART vaccina virus allows the vaccine to be turned off if the person being vaccinated develops rare, but serious complications.

Researchers are hopeful that the Vaccina virus will be a valuable tool in the development of other vaccines besides smallpox. Because it is easy to propagate and doesn’t cause cancer, it is being discussed with AIDS and cancer vaccines for humans and rabies and fertility control vaccines for wildlife. Tests are also being done to see if vaccina virus can stimulate immune responses to cancers and kill cancer cells.

“This built-in safety mechanism has the potential to positively impact the development of the next generation, replication-competent VACV vaccines and therapeutic vectors, possibly allowing treatment of complications from vaccination or therapy to be as simple as standard tetracycline antibiotic treatment,” Verardi concludes.

While vaccine side effects are extremely rare, this technology will allow everyone to be vaccinated for life threatening diseases without worrying about potential side effects.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who are the Anti-Vaccine People?

A recent article in the Chicago-Sun Times with the title, “Why do rich people hate vaccines?” brought the anti-vaccination movement back to the forefront of media discussion. The author noted that anti-vaccination was picking up steam in many of the country’s wealthier, educated enclaves where parents are interested in living “natural” lifestyles.

For instance, a public elementary school in Malibu reported that only 58 percent of their students are immunized, which is well below the recommended 90 percent. Even worse, at some of Los Angeles’ private schools, only 20 percent of kids are vaccinated.

“Yes, that’s right,” Nina Shapiro, a professor at UCLA medical school and mother of two states. “Parents are willingly paying up to $25,000 a year to schools at which fewer than 1 in 5 kindergartners has been immunized against the pathogens causing such life-threatening illnesses as measles, polio, meningitis and pertussis (whooping cough).”

The situation is not unique to California. In Boulder, Colorado close to 30 percent of children are exempted from at least one vaccine. Ashland, Oregon has some schools where two-thirds of students have exemptions. Michigan, Vermont, Idaho and Oregon all now have more than 5 percent of people choosing not to get vaccines. Illinois is close with 4.8 percent. The national median is 1.8 percent.

Paul Offit is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and notes that a high education level can enhance anti-vax beliefs. “They’re people who believe that they can know anything and know as much as their doctor – if not more – by simply studying it, reading about it,” he said.

This is a well-known problem in Australia. “These are parents who have good information available and yet they are not vaccinating their children,” states Steve Hambleton, president of the Austalian Medical Association. “People have forgotten about the devastating effects of diseases like mumps and measles. That’s probably one reason they are willing to take chances.”

Vaccine Watch encourages people to look for more sources of information about vaccines than information available on the Internet. Doctors and pediatricians have years of education and first-hand knowledge of the dangers of disease and safety and benefits of vaccines. Parents should consult their pediatrician when making vaccine choices for their children.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Ethics of Not Vaccinating

The anti-vaccine movement has been in the news a lot lately. Well-known anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy started on television’s The View this week, measles outbreaks struck Texas and Wales and children are headed back to school; prompting parents to question vaccine schedules.

During a Season 10 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the hypothetical scenario was a mother who decided not to vaccinate her child for measles based on rumors that the vaccine causes autism. The child contracts measles at age four and passes it on to a one-year old child at the daycare center who is too young for the vaccine. The baby dies in the episode with the title “Selfish.”

A paper in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics explores whether people can be held legally accountable for damage they cause by not vaccinating their children. Bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan is a co-author on the paper and states: “One can make a legitimate, state-sanctioned choice not to vaccinate, but that does not protect the person making the choice against the consequences of that choice for others.” The paper argues that a parent who decides not to vaccinate and endangers another child is clearly at fault and could be charged with criminally negligent homicide or sued for damages.

“Parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids for reasons of personal belief pose a serious danger to the public,” stated Jed Lipinski of the Albuquerque Journal. “Take the San Diego measles outbreak of 2008. After unknowingly contracting the disease on a trip to Switzerland, an unvaccinated 7-year old boy infected 11 other unvaccinated kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

“The majority of the cases occurred in kids whose parents had requested personal belief exemptions through the state of California,” Lipinski continues. “But three of the infected were either too young or medically unable to be vaccinated. And overall, 48 children too young to be vaccinated were quarantined, at an average cost to the family of $775 per child. The CDC noted that all 11 cases were ‘linked epidemiologically’ to the 7-year old boy and the outbreak response cost the public sector $10,376 per case.”

Caplan, Lipinski and others all agree that the government’s interest in protecting children from getting measles should trump parents’ interest in making medical decisions for their kids. Lipinski believes extra measures need to be taken to ensure non-vaccinators understand the risk they pose to other people’s children.

Vaccine Watch urges parents to seek answers to vaccine questions from their child’s pediatrician. As Caplan and Lipinski point out – choosing not to vaccinate your child can have much greater consequences than most parents realize.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vaccine News on Hulu TV

Bill Gates
Photo: Getty Images

Hulu TV has several short documentaries dedicated to vaccines and increasing education and awareness about them.  Outer Limits The Vaccine was produced by MGM and is a 45-minute video about a city where a deadly virus has killed most people, but a vaccine becomes available. The plot thickens when only a limited number of vaccines are available.

The other documentary that intrigued Vaccine Watch was The Vaccine According to Bill Gates. This 50-minute presentation that was released in 2013 talks about the search for a malaria vaccine and public health being funded by private funds. One of Bill Gates’ personal goals is to eradicate malaria from the planet. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $200 million into funding the research of the RTS,S malaria vaccine with the goal of protecting millions of children and saving thousands of lives.

Research into a malaria vaccine is not new, and has been going on for the last twenty-five years. Other researchers are also developing several other malaria vaccines. Malaria is a difficult vaccine to develop because of the radically different stages of the disease, both morphologically and physiologically. It also mutates once in the bloodstream and builds resistance to drugs. The different vaccines are targeting different stages of malaria in humans; MSP3 is another of the vaccines being developed. Both RTS,S and MSP3 are still developing the best way to increase efficacy rates of their respective vaccines, which have been well below expectations.

Bill Gates notes, “…vaccines are a great technology and investment.” The Gates Foundation is the second largest contributor to the World Health Organization (WHO) behind the United States Government.  Some have questioned private funds in the realm of public health – and noted that the Gates Foundation began in 2000 while Microsoft was facing an anti-trust lawsuit from the U.S. Government. Questions about the price of the malaria vaccine when it is developed have also arisen, and the correlation was made that the price of the vaccine will be related to the patent. Those who believe that private funds shouldn’t be involved in public health state it’s a citizen’s right to have access to a vaccine. Even at a profit of five percent, the development and sale of a malaria vaccine will be very lucrative for the company that manufactures it. Gates counters that technology should not just be for the richest, and that the vaccine will be available for everyone.

The definitive results of the RTS,S vaccine will not be known until 2014. The other vaccines continue to be researched as well. Vaccine Watch supports the development of life-saving vaccines. In this situation, private funds have allowed decades-long research to progress more quickly.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

When Measles Strikes

The media has been full of reports on the Texas mega-church with a measles outbreak because their pastor preaches against vaccination. The irony and coincidence of the situation has caused national news outlets, blogs and others to comment.

The Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark is a division TV evangelist Kenneth Copeland, who advocates faith healing and has talked of his belief in the vaccine-autism link. His daughter Terri Pearsons is the senior pastor at Eagle Mountain. The measles outbreak at the church has infected 21 people ranging in age from 4-months to 44-years old. The majority of the infected people were never vaccinated. Health officials expect the outbreak to grow.

A person who contracted measles in Indonesia visited the church and caused the outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) notes that measles is spread by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact. It is recommended that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, which covers measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, 90% of people who aren’t vaccinated or immune to it will get sick if exposed to the disease. Symptoms of measles include a fever, cough and rash. The outbreak has led the church to hold vaccination clinics and encourage those who won’t be vaccinated to self-quarantine.

Health officials across the country have taken note and urge precaution. “We don’t take chances with our kids when we have them in a car, we should not take chances with our kids when they’re out in the world,” Dr. Ken Haller of Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in Missouri states. “Kids need to be vaccinated. I feel so sorry for these people who got measles down in Texas and I hope none of them end up dying as a result of it.”

“It is really important, as parents, if you have fears for your kid’s safety, for those fears to be rational; the fear of the diseases we’re trying to prevent and not the best means of preventing it,” Dr. Haller adds.

Vaccine Watch encourages everyone to get vaccinated. Diseases like measles are serious and can lead to death – but vaccination is a simple and safe preventative action. Ask your doctor if you have questions about vaccines, don’t depend on the wisdom of the non-medical community or the Internet.