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. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School - Time for Vaccines

As children and parents across the country gear up to go back to school, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing high vaccination coverage among U.S. kindergarteners in the 2012-13 school year. Exemption levels remained stable in the report.

CDC used data from federally funded immunization programs to conduct their research. While optimistic about vaccination levels, the CDC did warn that even with high levels of vaccination, vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can still occur among clusters of unvaccinated people at local levels in schools and communities.

“Vaccination exemptions have been shown to cluster geographically,” the CDC stated. “If exemption levels are high in a school or community, the number of unvaccinated kindergarteners might be sufficient to permit transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases, if introduced. Assessing and reporting school vaccination coverage at the local level is critical for state education and health departments to protect kindergarteners and the community from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Health departments and schools are encouraged to use the data provided by CDC to develop health communication strategies based on the specific vaccine-preventable disease risk at a local school caused by low coverage or high exemption.

Illinois is now requiring all students in grades 6-12 to have a Tdap vaccination by October 15th. The new rule was caused by the rise in whooping cough cases in Illinois over the last six years. Public health officials in Michigan are worried about their low immunization rate, citing philosophical waivers as one of the issues. The Michigan State Medical Society plans to organize more awareness events across the state.

Unfortunately, the number of teens vaccinated for HPV is not as high as the kindergarten coverage, with only half of U.S. teenage girls vaccinated. “We’re dropping the ball,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of CDC. “This is a huge disappointment.” The CDC worries that family doctors aren’t encouraging patients to get HPV shots as forcefully as they recommend other vaccines.

A letter by Dr. David Horowitz in Contemporary Pediatrics recently stated that pediatricians are providing all the education they can to parents about vaccines and that educating parents isn’t sufficient. While there is a group of parents, known as the worriers, that education reaches; there are other groups of parents for whom education about vaccines will not be enough.

“The simple answer is that if simply educating patients about vaccines were sufficient, then we would not have a problem in the first place,” Dr. Horowitz states.

An earlier study done by researchers in upstate New York and published in Pediatrics cited community partnership as a way to increase vaccination rates in poor children. “Multi-component interventions aimed at increasing immunization coverage rates are more successful than single interventions, perhaps with the exception of patient reminder and recall systems,” researchers wrote. “The most successful interventions described allow families to explain their health concerns, address perceived barriers to vaccination, improve community awareness of services already available, and engage health care outreach liaisons.”

“Future programs should continue to focus on interactive vaccine education, with special attention on the risks of influenza infection and the benefit of influenza vaccination,” the study concluded.

As schools across the country get back into session, Vaccine Watch encourages parents to take necessary steps to protect their children. Education and talking to your child’s pediatrician, school nurse and other health officials is the best way to find reliable information about vaccines.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lyme Vaccine

In the last fifteen years, concern over tick-borne diseases has begun to over shadow the enjoyment of recreational summer activities. The ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found in grassy areas like lawns, shrubs and woodlands.

Lyme disease in particular has become so wide spread in the United States that it is the number one vector borne illness. Public health experts are most concerned about children and adults who work or spend a lot of time outside and are urging the development of a Lyme vaccine.

“The fact that there is no vaccine for an infection causing some 20,000 annual cases of Lyme is an egregious failure of public health,” states emeritus professor of medicine Stanley A. Plotkin of the University of Pennsylvania.

Baxter International is currently developing a Lyme vaccine, but is moving slowly because of backlash earlier Lyme vaccines had from anti-vaccine groups. The Food and Drug Administration approved two Lyme vaccines in the 1990s, although only one of them made it to the market.

Lymerix was put on the market in 1998, but false claims were made that Lymerix caused arthritis. Anti-vaccine groups went so far as to claim that Lymerix caused Lyme disease. Although the claim was later proved wrong, the vaccine was pulled from the market in 2002 because of a class action lawsuit based on the false claims and declining sales.

Lorraine Johnson is the chief executive of, an advocacy group and states: “I’m cautious about vaccines. Everyone wants a good vaccine, but no one wants a vaccine that enriches researchers and harms patients like the last one.”

Meanwhile, a group at the University of Rhode Island (URI) is working to develop another vaccine. The group is using the protein from deer tick saliva to create the vaccine. After being vaccinated, anyone who is bit by a tick will have an itching sensation and their body’s immune system will be triggered to attack any pathogens the tick delivers.

With this previous history in mind, Baxter International and the group at URI continue to develop vaccines to combat this terrible disease. Their goal is to explain that the vaccine is safe and effective and will not cause Lyme disease, while helping thousands of people avoid this debilitating disease. Vaccine Watch encourages people to learn more about vaccines and speak with their doctors – especially if a vaccine has the potential to combat a terrible disease.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Voices for Vaccines

A group of parents has created an organization that advocates for vaccinating children. Voices for Vaccines provide information through a community of parents who are supportive of vaccination and discuss the benefits of on-time vaccination. Although the organization is parent driven, scientists, healthcare professionals and public health officials also support it.

One of the most compelling pages on the Voices for Vaccines website is the “Parents Who Vax” section, where parents explain why they chose to vaccinate their infants. Dr. Torre McGowan, MD is a practicing emergency physician in California and the mother of two little boys. She wrote an essay on the consequences of not vaccinating.  She states:

“I fully support parents’ rights to choose not to vaccinate, but there are consequences to that decision. I have had many conversations with parents in the middle of the night when their child has a fever and had to explain to them that because of their decision to not vaccinate, research indicates that their child is at a significantly increased risk for life-threatening diseases, and so will need invasive testing in the ER. It will take hours, and it will hurt their child. I tell them that the diseases we vaccinate against aren’t just nuisances; they kill and maim children every day, and they are almost completely preventable by vaccination.

I tell parents that I have worked in several developing countries, and I have seen children disfigured by diseases that we only read about in history books. I’ve seen babies die of diseases that in the U.S. we don’t even think about as a cause of illness because vaccination has nearly eliminated the illness. However, these illnesses are starting to make a comeback because of the anti-vaccine movement.

I also tell them that as a parent of two boys, I carefully research every vaccine and medicine that my children are given. I read the medical journals on the topic; examine the evidence for myself about all of the controversies about thimerosal and autism and invasive disease. Then I tell them that after many hours of studying the best research available, I am first in line to have my children vaccinated every time they are due.”

The parents at Voices for Vaccines aren’t alone. Nurses Who Vaccinate is a blog that advocates the safety and reliability of vaccines. Families Fighting Flu is a website that advocates for the flu shot to protect children from the flu.  Pfizer Australia created the smart phone app VaxiMate to help parents keep children’s immunization records organized and on time. The app is free and also includes the Australian immunization schedule and details on the diseases the child is being vaccinated against.

While there are numerous resources available on the Internet in favor and against vaccines, one of the best resources parents have is their child’s pediatrician. Vaccine Watch encourages parents to study all of the information, ask questions and make an informed decision for their child’s health and wellbeing.