Giving the Gift of Health

Posted on December 24th, 2014

Each year, we see unnecessary outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases here in Maine. This year, weve seen everything from pertussis to chickenpox outbreaks appearing in Washington County to Aroostook, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot and Waldo counties. As we look back on 2014, and think about how we can improve the health of Maine residents in 2015, we ask that Mainers commit themselves to giving the gift of health to themselves and each other throughout the New Year.

BadGift GeneralJust last week, the Franklin Sun Journal reported that a student from Livermore Elementary School was diagnosed with chickenpox. However, what begins as one case typically causes a ripple effect, impacting others students and sometimes entire communities.

As the Bangor Daily News reported,
Under state law, in the absence of disease history or an exemption, Maine students must be vaccinated against chickenpox, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella. Students who cannot show a disease history or vaccination must be barred from school for 16 days. Exemptions include a physician’s written statement that immunization against the diseases may be medically inadvisable or a parent’s written statement opposing immunization because of religious beliefs or philosophical concerns.

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Over the River and Through the Woods: Tips for Holiday Travel with Kids

Posted on December 17th, 2014

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather with family and friendsbut first, we have to get there. Flying or driving with kids during busy travel times can be challenging. But with a little advanced planning and the right attitude, traveling during the holidays can also be fun. Make your winter vacation a great family adventure with these tips for safe and happy holiday travels with kids!

Family going on road tripFlying with Kids During the Holidays 

  • Smart packing saves the day. Carefully organizing your carry-on baggage can be the key to a successful flight.
    • Give children their own backpack or carry-on bag filled with their favorite snacks, activities and treats. Reserve your own carry-on for boarding passes, identification and valuables.
    • While it’s best to pack light, make sure you have more wipes, diapers, formula or breastmilk than you think you’ll need. If your plane is held on the tarmac or delayed, you could end up with just enough!
    • Layer up. You may be heading to or from a warmer destination, but airports and airplanes can be chilly for children. Include one warm layer in your child’s carry-on, just in case.

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Reducing the Risk of Contracting Influenza is Worth a Shot

Posted on December 10th, 2014

Dr. Jane Ho

This article originally appeared in the Maine Voices column of the Portland Press Herald on December 5, 2014 in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week. The author, Dr. Jane Ho, is a pediatrician in Westbrook and clinical adviser to the MaineHealth Childhood Immunizations Program. In this article she explains that by vaccinating yourself and your family, youre also helping to protect others in the community.

Several news articles published recently in the Portland Press Herald have addressed concerns over unvaccinated children in Maine. As a parent of three teen boys and a local pediatrician, it concerns me that our state has one of the highest percentages of kindergarten students who fail to receive school-required vaccinations. With diseases such as whooping cough and measles making a nationwide come-back, organizations such as VaxMaineKids, MaineHealth and the Maine Immunization Program are working harder than ever to protect Maine children, using safe and effective immunizations, from preventable diseases which can lead to other complications, and even death.

nivw-504x504px-1In honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec 7th – 13th), I want to draw attention to influenza, a disease that everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated for each and every year. The flu infects millions of people every season, with fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed. It’s not a bad cold or a brief stomach bug. Influenza can be very serious.

While flu activity has remained sporadic throughout Maine during the past few weeks, we must remember that the flu season varies each year, so now is the time to get vaccinated to best protect yourself and your family. The severity of flu seasons can differ each year, and it’s estimated that over 200,000 people are hospitalized, and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from flu annually in the United States.

Not only is this terribly tragic, it’s also highly preventable with a safe and effective vaccine.   However, despite the dangers associated with the flu, only about 46% of people over six months of age got a flu vaccine last season.

Among the109 pediatric deaths that occurred last year, almost half were in previously healthy children, and 90% were in children who were unvaccinated. Sadly, some of these victims were too young to be vaccinated, and therefore relied on others in the community getting vaccinated to reduce the spread of influenza. Already, there have been five pediatric flu-related deaths in the 2014-2015 season. Continue reading

Give to Great Causes that Protect Kids and Promote Good Health

Posted on December 2nd, 2014

The holiday shopping season is now in full swing. At the same time as you’re making your list and checking it twice, it’s important to remember the importance of giving back. Fortunately, a new global tradition called #GivingTuesday unites people as they donate time and money to causes they care about. If you think every child deserves a shot at good health, we invite you to consider adding two charities to your #GivingTuesday tuesday

No matter what holiday traditions your family celebrates, the shopping frenzy that takes over the month of December can be challenging. We love making our children’s eyes light up with gifts, but we don’t want them to spend the entire holiday season completely obsessed with what they want to get. Raising grateful kids who give back to their community means creating holiday traditions that emphasize volunteer opportunities and charitable giving.

A new holiday tradition aims to do just that: #GivingTuesday.

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Raising Grateful Givers: Teaching Kids the Value of Giving Back

Posted on November 26th, 2014

This past weekend, families across the nation honored Family Volunteer Day by working together to change their communities for the better. Taking time as a family to help others sets the stage for a more meaningful holiday season, and it sets a wonderful example for children and teens. In fact, children who begin volunteering in their youth are twice as likely to volunteer as adults! This Thanksgiving, here are a few tips for teaching children the importance of giving thanks and giving back.iStock_000021396554Large

Teaching our children how to be grateful is a lifelong lesson. Children are taught the importance of community service and charitable giving in school and in some community and religious organizations, but these lessons have a greater impact when they see these values reflected at home. Children who volunteer in their youth are twice as likely to volunteer as adults, and children who witness their parents volunteering grow up to be the most dedicated and generous volunteers of all.

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Breastfeeding Alone is Not Enough to Protect Babies from Dangerous Diseases

Posted on November 19th, 2014

For thousands of years, breast milk has provided a complete source of nutrition and some immunity for babies to fight off certain kinds of infections and allergies. Of course, let’s not overlook breastfeeding’s bonding benefits! But as powerful as it is, breast milk cant protect babies from everything, including dangerous diseases like measles and whooping cough. Luckily, todays parents have a second line of defense: safe, effective, CDC-recommended vaccines. Through on-time immunizations, parents can protect to their babies from diseases, regardless of whether their babies are breastfed or not.Mother and Son

At Vax Maine Kids, we often say that every child who can get immunized should get immunized, and we feel the same way about breastfeeding. Just like on-time vaccinations, breastfeeding is a wonderful way to give babies a strong, healthy start on life. Both vaccines and breast milk are powerful immunity boosters, and they protect babies best when they work together. Breastfeeding alone just isn’t enough.

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New Study Shows Childhood Vaccines Don’t Cause Epilepsy

Posted on November 14th, 2014

A brand-new study published in Pediatrics last month confirmed, yet again, that vaccines do not cause epilepsy, yet this myth continues to be talked about on social media, in blogs and amongst families and friends. Here is the truth about vaccines and fevers, seizures and epilepsy.

Child thermometerThe first few years of a child’s life are a whirlwind of milestones and experiences both for the child and parents. It’s easy to get lost in all the activity. It’s also easy to assume that two things that happened close together are directly linked when they aren’t. That’s often the case with the presumed connection between epilepsy and vaccines. The fact is that children with epilepsy can experience their first seizures around the same time they are getting their first vaccinations, leading some parents to link the two. Many research studies have shown that this is just a coincidence, and childhood vaccinations do not cause epilepsy.

Here’s what you need to know…

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How to Keep Your Halloween Festivities Safe for Kids

Posted on October 30th, 2014

Halloween is almost here! Kids and adults all over Maine are assembling their costumes and looking forward to parties and trick-or-treating. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind as your family gets ready to celebrate.Halloween Party With Children Trick Or Treating In Costume

Get dressed up! Staying safe in costumes:

    If your child’s costume has a mask, hood, hat or helmet, make sure they can still see well while wearing it. Children often visit unfamiliar homes or streets in low light for Halloween festivities, so test their forward and peripheral vision before putting on any headgear.
    Not only do you want your child to be able to see, you want them to be easily seen. If they’re planning to go door-to-door in the dark, you may want to attach reflective tape to the front and back of your child’s costume, give them a glow stick to carry or ensure they have a flashlight.
  • FIT
    Whether or not your costume is store-bought or homemade, make sure it fits well. Roll up pant legs to prevent tripping, make sure tails or trains don’t drag on the ground or get caught in doors, and roll up sleeves or use close-fitting gloves to make sure your kids can still use their hands.
    Kids look so cute in grown-up shoes, but if they can’t walk in them well they are prone to injury. Don’t let your child borrow high heels or cowboy boots from your closet unless they really fit, and avoid ballet slippers, skates or any shoe not meant for outdoor wear. There are often steps to manage so a sure fit for footwear is key.
    Glowing pumpkins, twinkling votives, creepy candles … fire does play a part in traditional Halloween décor, so make sure your child’s costume is made from non-flammable materials and that they are careful to keep away from open flames.

Decorate with pumpkins! Staying safe while carving:
Keeping a knife steady while carving a pumpkin can be a challenge, even for adults. So it’s not necessarily a safe activity for young kids. But there are so many fun ways to involve small children in pumpkin carving. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let them choose their pumpkin from the pumpkin patch or store
  • Give them spoons to scoop out the “pumpkin guts”
  • Have small children draw the design they want, and use push pins to mark the spots that you can carve for them
  • Paint or decorate pumpkins instead of carving them
  • Ask them to help separate out pumpkin seeds for toasting, or let them help cook pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread

Go trick-or-treating! Staying safe while getting candy:

    Young children should never trick-or-treat without a responsible adult. If you allow older children to trick-or-treat by themselves, know where they will be going and let them know when you expect them to return. Remind tweens and teens that they should never go into the home of a stranger and that they should never accept a ride from someone they don’t know.
    Filling kids up on a good, healthy dinner before they go trick-or-treating is the best way to keep their spirits high and their candy-eating under control. If your festivities get started too early for dinner, try providing protein-rich snacks like peanut butter on crackers, egg or tuna sandwiches or cheese sticks to help satisfy their hunger.
    Let your kids know they can’t dig into their candy until they get home. You want them to stay focused on the fun of trick-or-treating, and you will want to inspect their treats before they eat anything.
    When you get home, sort through your child’s candy. Unless you know and trust the person who made them, take out homemade or unwrapped treats. If candy wrappers are open or torn, toss those out, too. If your child has allergies, make sure there is nothing that could trigger a reaction. And be aware of potential chocking hazards. If your child is too young for hard candy or gum, take those pieces out or trade them for something more age-appropriate.
    Every parent’s approach to Halloween candy is different, and you know your child best. No matter how much candy you decide to let them eat and for how long, make your rules clear before trick-or-treating, and stick to them. And it’s a good idea to incorporate good dental hygiene as part of the deal!

Children often get far more candy than they should consume. Some local dental offices will trade your child’s candy for stickers, books or toys. You can arrange your own swaps at home, or stash extra candy in a drawer to be enjoyed a little bit at a time. Save some for holiday baking or for those family movie nights.

Halloween festivities are a wonderful way to spend quality time with our children, learn more about their friends and interests and build on family traditions. If you have a special holiday tradition to share or other suggestions on how to stay safe and healthy this holiday season, feel free to share in a comment below.

Support the Fight to End Polio: The Ebola of Yesterday

Posted on October 23rd, 2014

The End Polio Now campaign, led by Rotary International, raises awareness of what can be done to make polio a disease of the past. This Friday, October 24th, in the midst of growing international concern about the West African Ebola outbreak, World Polio Day will serve as a timely reminder of what well-funded and well-supported global immunization initiatives can do to fight back against even the most frightening diseases.

Rotary_World_Polio_Day_graphicImagine a highly contagious disease that spreads quickly, can paralyze or kill its victims, has few effective treatments and no known cure. When outbreaks strike, schools close, travel grinds to a halt and hospitals struggle to quarantine and cure the victims. Sound familiar?

In the early 20th century, the dangerous disease that everyone feared was polio. Few people today remember the panic and terror parents felt back then, or how grateful they were when a polio vaccine was finally available in 1955.

What can the ongoing fight against polio teach us as we struggle to contain Ebola?

Well-funded scientific research yields safe, effective vaccines.
Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine through research funded by the March of Dimes, an organization founded in 1938 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to fight Infant Paralysis (a common name for poliovirus). President Roosevelt had contracted polio at age 39 during the large 1916 epidemic. Fortunately, he recovered, but he would suffer from partial paralysis for the rest of his life, so he made fighting the disease one of his life’s greatest missions.

He had lots of help. Millions of donations flooded in from ordinary Americans, and a grant provided Dr. Jonas Salk with the resources he needed to create the first polio vaccine.

polio_infographic_orensteinSafe, effective vaccines save lives.
For diseases as dangerous, easily spread and difficult to treat as polio and Ebola, vaccines are an important prevention to keep people safe. In the early 1950’s, there were as many as 20,000 people paralyzed by polio and 1,000 deaths due to polio each year in the United States. Thanks to widespread adoption of Salk’s Nobel-prize winning vaccine, we haven’t seen a case of polio in this country since 1979 and there has been a 99% reduction in polio worldwide. A disease that terrorized humanity for centuries has been almost completely wiped out in less than 50 years.

Today, we are closer than ever to ending polio for good. There are just three countries where polio is still common: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. These countries suffer with inaccessibility, infrastructure and resource challenges, making it difficult for their citizens to get routine preventive healthcare, such as vaccinations. That is why Vax Maine Kids, and many other healthcare organizations and community groups, support the End Polio Now campaign and The Global Polio Eradication Initiative which are working to raise vaccination rates in these areas through advocacy, education and funding.  

Ensure everyone who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated.
When Salk’s polio vaccine passed field trials in 1954, church bells rang all over America to announce the wonderful news. Families stood in lines for hours to get their children this lifesaving vaccine —first in America, and then all over the world.

Before the polio vaccine was developed, pools, beaches and movie theaters were closed, parents kept children home from school and families didn’t go to restaurants, shops and other public spaces. However, because entire communities got vaccinated, poliovirus outbreaks became a thing of the past in the United States.

ThisCloseAmandaPeetLogoWhile we’re “this close” to ending polio across the globe, we must remember that a case of polio reported anywhere remains a threat to people everywhere. Sadly, all individuals who don’t get the polio vaccine remain at risk until the disease is totally wiped out.

Today, Ebola has shown us that health threats are global. Remembering the lessons in our fight against polio, the global scientific community has already been investing in the development of several promising Ebola vaccines.   The hope is that, one day, an Ebola vaccine will be available that can save thousands of lives around the world.

Today, we have the tools to bid “goodbye” to polio. Now we just need to do it. If you would like to get involved in the fight to end polio, join Rotary International for a live global update on World Polio Day on Livestream this Friday, October 24th at 6:30pm CST. Find out why outbreaks happen and what Rotary is doing to help. Hear from Rotary partners, celebrity spokespeople, polio survivors and specials guests. Just add this special event to your calendar by clicking here, and visit the End Polio Now website for more details on how you can help generate the advocacy, education and fundraising that is needed to get the job done.  

New Book “On Immunity: An Inoculation” Added to Our Recommended Reading List

Posted on October 21st, 2014

At Vax Maine Kids, we believe it’s our responsibility to keep parents informed about new research on vaccines, current vaccine recommendations from the CDC and recent outbreaks of diseases such as measles, influenza and Enterovirus-D68. But our appreciation of vaccines goes beyond just the latest outbreak. We want parents to understand the safety, science and history of childhood vaccines. This is why we are recommending you check out  On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. On Immunity - Book Cover

Award winning author Eula Biss gave birth to her son right about the time the H1N1 flu virus began making headlines around the world. Biss worried about her baby getting sick from this dangerous strain of influenza, but she was also concerned about the new H1N1 flu vaccine. Was it produced too quickly? Had it undergone enough safety testing? In making health decisions to protect her son, she had to consider the risks of the disease compared to the risk of the vaccine:

“When I search now for a synonym for protect, my thesaurus suggests, after shield and shelter and secure, one final option: inoculate. This was the question, when my son was born—would I inoculate him? As I understood it then, this was not a question of whether I would protect him so much as it was a question of whether inoculation was a risk worth taking.”

Eula Biss

Eula Biss

Like many parents these days, Biss decided she had to know more about vaccination before making her decision. “I thought I would do a small amount of research to answer some questions that had come up for me,” she explained in a recent NPR interview. “And the questions just got bigger the more I learned and the more I read.”

She discovered that most parents vaccinate their children, but that concerns about vaccination are not new. A minority of parents challenge vaccines for various political and personal reasons.

Her book paints a thoughtful and respectful picture of parents that Biss refers to as “vaccine-hesitant”— very protective of their children’s health, yet distrustful of the groups who work to protect them – everyone from the government, pharmaceutical companies, and even in some cases medical staff. Because Biss knows some people who are vaccine-hesitant, and she had once shared their concerns, she understands and relates to their fears in the underlying tones of her book.

Spoiler alert: After carefully researching and exploring the history, science and safety of vaccines, Biss did choose to vaccinate her son.  Although she comes to a simple conclusion, she makes her vast research, and the conclusions she draws from it, engaging, easy to understand and hard to ignore. She has a special ability for addressing the concerns of today’s parents in regard to toxins, purity, and more.… and yet she explains how her research resolved any fear she had about ingredients and other vaccine issues. In the end, she concludes that parents should protect their children with the safe and effective vaccines we have the ability to provide to them.

Biss also discusses the role of vaccination as a community responsibility. By believing we are all connected to each other, she feels we all must accept a small amount of risk to protect ourselves and our communities. This idea of herd immunity becomes central to her immunization decisions. She writes:

“For some of the mothers I know, a refusal to vaccinate falls under a broader resistance to capitalism. But refusing immunity as a form of civil disobedience bears an unsettling resemblance to the very structure the Occupy movement seeks to disrupt — a privileged 1 percent are sheltered from risk while they draw resources from the other 99 percent.”

As we join Biss on her journey, we see that, while she comes to believe that childhood vaccinations are the best choice parents can make, she doesn’t talk down to parents who disagree with her. Recent research reveals that this is one of the best ways to talk about vaccines with vaccine-hesitant parents. As The New Yorker review of her book speculates, “Her approach might actually be more likely to sway fearful parents, offering them an alternative set of images and associations to use in thinking about immunization.”

If you know a parent who is questioning the benefit of vaccines, On Immunity: An Inoculation might be a great book recommendation to share.

For more good reads about vaccination, check out these other immunization related publications. There are even some for kids.  

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations
By Michael Joseph Smith, M.D., M.S.C.E., and Laurie Bouck
This book helps readers to understand and appreciate how vaccines work, how they are tested and monitored, and what vaccinations are recommended. The book also explores several related issues, such as the use of mercury in vaccines, the cycle of influenza epidemics, why there are vaccine shortages, and what new vaccines might be developed next.

Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction
By Paul A. Offit, MD, and Charlotte A. Moser
This comprehensive book is written for parents seeking accurate and detailed vaccine information.

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
By Paul A. Offit, MD
This is the ultimate explanation of how the anti-vaccine movement in America—its origins, leaders, influences, and impact—have had such a powerful opposition to science in the face of fear.

Do Vaccines Cause That?! A Guide for Evaluating Vaccine Safety Concerns
By Martin Myers, MD and Diego Pineda, MS
A must-read book for parents concerned about the safety of vaccines. The authors have co-authored more than 80 peer-reviewed articles on immunization issues and expertly guide readers through all the misinformation that they hear.

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear
By Seth Mnookin
Journalist Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The book is a riveting medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought.

Factcines: Facts on Vaccines. Just the Data. You Decide
By Susan Shoshana Weisberg, MD, FCP, FAAP
The author translates the medical literature on vaccines and puts it into understandable language. All sources are documented, with over 1900 references cited, 200 pages of easily readable text, and 82 pages of listed references.

The History of Vaccines
Written by the people behind the award-winning website, this book covers the birth of vaccination in the late 1700s and traces the influences of the bacteriological revolution of the late 1800s into the rapidly expanding field of vaccinology.

Books Especially for the Little Ones in Your Life:

The Saturday Shot; A Nellie Park Adventure
By Morgan Thomas
Join Nellie Park on her creative journey as she faces her biggest fear—the needle. The Saturday Shot is the perfect remedy for kids of all ages dealing with a vaccination appointment.

Vaccines for Maxine
By Geri Rodda, R.N.
Help children learn all about vaccines as Maxine and her pup put on a dream-world play.

Flu and You
By Geri Rodda, R.N.
Influenza arrives each Fall, with plans to spread its germs to all but as we follow Influenza to school, home, and the playground, we learn healthy habits to avoid catching and spreading the flu.