The Power to Protect: A Maine Mother’s Story

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Posted on April 20th, 2016

April 16th-23rd, 2016 is National Infant Immunization Week, the CDC’s national celebration of the safe, healthy start vaccines give babies. But you don’t need to have a baby (or even know a baby!) to do your part. When you are fully vaccinated, you help protect Maine’s little ones from dangerous, life-threatening diseases. And as one Maine mother’s story shows us, that’s a big deal.


Even when parents carefully follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule, they need help from their family, friends and neighbors to keep their children healthy. Infants can’t get all the vaccines they need immediately after birth. As their bodies grow, they rely on the immunity of the children and adults around them to keep infections away. When everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated, dangerous diseases can’t spread easily in our community. It’s powerful protection, and it’s called herd immunity. Like buffalo circling around their young when wolves are on the prowl, high herd immunity prevents outbreaks and keeps diseases like pertussis, influenza, measles and more away from small children.

When there are holes in that herd immunity, our most vulnerable community members can get hurt. Babies haven’t yet completed all the recommended doses of the critical DTaP vaccine. This means they are not fully vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough—a serious illness making a real recurrence in Maine. Pertussis is highly contagious, and because its early symptoms can mimic a cold, infected people spread it without knowing. Most infants acquire pertussis from a well meaning adult who is unaware that they have it. People like Luanne and her husband, first-time parents of an infant son living in southern Maine.

For more, see Scarborough physician Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat’s guide, “How to Protect Your Child from Whooping Cough Continue reading

Poison Prevention at Home: Keeping Kids Safe from Poisonous Substances

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Posted on March 22nd, 2016

MHBFBro9M_print.inddKids are naturally curious, and kids are quick. Up to age five, a child’s exploration of the world often includes tasting the things they discover, and this can lead to childhood poisonings. Adult medications look like candy to little eyes. Many cleansers and cosmetics come in attractive colors and pretty packaging. Accidents happen, even in carefully childproofed homes with attentive caregivers. Here’s how Maine parents can keep poisonous household substances out of their children’s reach—and why they should always keep the phone number for the Poison Center hotline close by.

This week is National Poison Prevention week across America. We’ve talked about the importance of preventing lead poisoning in Maine’s children, and we also want to help parents keep common household items that can poison children out of their reach. As poison prevention advocates remind us, kids act fast. More than two million poisonings are reported to poison control centers across America every year. Over 90% of these poisonings happen at home. And while poisoning continues to be a leading cause of death for adults, most reported poisonings happen to children under the age of six years old.

  • The toll free Poison Help Line phone number is 1-800-222-1222. Post it by your home phone and program it into your cell phone today. You can also text 85511 or go to the Northern New England Poison Center website to live chat with a poison control specialist. Make sure your family and babysitters know where the number is and understand when it should be used. If you suspect that someone in your home has been exposed to poison, do not wait for symptoms to appear – call the Poison Center right away. Highly trained nurses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free, confidential calls to talk you through symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment, fast. Calls are free and confidential, and interpreter services are available. The Poison Center is also available for questions, so do not hesitate to call.

If you think your child may have been exposed to a poisonous substance, call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If your child is not breathing or is exhibiting other life-threatening symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Childproof your kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garage today. The best way to treat an accidental poisoning is to prevent it. Take some time this week to walk (or crawl) through your home. What doors, drawers or closets are within your child’s reach? Small children love to pull pots and pans out of cupboards, or pull measuring cups out of drawers. You don’t want them reaching for household cleansers, medicines, bug sprays, detergents or air fresheners. All storage areas for potentially poisonous household items should be stored well out of a child’s reach or have child safety locks. You can get more information about common hazards and poisoning prevention here.

Laundry and dishwashing detergent pods are a particular concern because of their candy colors, teething-toy consistency, and ability to squish easily and squirt detergent. Almost 12,000 children inhaled or ingested a laundry or dishwashing detergent pod last year. If you decide to use pods at home, store them out of reach of children, always put them away after every use, and make sure the lid or package is closed tightly. Continue reading

Let’s Get the Lead Out! How Maine Parents Can Protect their Children from Lead Poisoning

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Posted on February 29th, 2016

139913791As the headlines coming out of Flint, Michigan have reminded us, lead poisoning remains a significant risk for children growing up in places with older housing stock and aging infrastructure—places just like Maine. Between 1999 and 2014, almost 500 Maine children tested positive for lead poisoning, and only half of Maine’s children are tested at all. Lead poisoning can cause lifelong behavioral and health problems even at trace levels of exposure. Because lead is so toxic, Maine parents should talk about lead testing with their children’s provider and know how to keep their children protected from lead exposure at home.

Lead is still a significant health threat to children in Maine.
Lead poisoning isn’t just a problem in Flint. It’s a problem in Fryeburg, and Freedom, and Freeport. Every day, thousands of children all over Maine come home to the single biggest environmental threat to their health: lead. The fight against lead poisoning is our fight, too.

Once considered a miracle metal, lead was added to paint, gasoline, cosmetics and even food for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until very recently that scientists began to understand just how much damage lead exposure could do—and how much damage it had already done.

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Winter Activities for Maine Families

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Posted on December 17th, 2015

The winter solstice arrives this Tuesday, December 22, signaling the official start of winter. While it has been unseasonably warm so far this season, Maine families know that snow, ice and colder weather are surely on the way. It may take a bit more effort to stay healthy and active during the winter months, but it’s worth it. Our favorite wintertime activities strengthen children’s fitness levels, boost their immunity and brighten their moods. They’re also a lot of fun!

Thanks to greenhouses, cold frames, root cellars and the hardy ingenuity of Maine farmers, your family can eat delicious and healthy local produce, eggs, milk, meats and cheeses, homemade preserves, honey and baked goods throughout the long, dark winter months.

Winter Farmer’s Markets have sprung up all over our state. If your family enjoys visiting your local farmer’s market in warmer weather, chances are that market moves into a cozy indoor location during the winter. The Maine Federation of Farmer’s Markets (MFFA) Winter Markets 2015-2016 guide lets you browse markets by county.

Winter community supported agriculture (CSA) shares deliver boxes of winter goodness at regular intervals, right from your favorite local farm. The Maine Organic Farmer’s and Grower’s Association (MOFGA) maintains a list of Maine farms offering winter CSA shares. Continue reading

Comfort Recipes to Nourish the Whole Family

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Posted on November 20th, 2015

As we inch closer to winter and the temperatures get colder, it can be more challenging to stay healthy. Influenza season has begun (have you had your flu shot?), the sound of coughs and sneezes can be heard everywhere, the outdoor exercisers are few and far between, and the farmer’s markets with colorful fruits and vegetables are ending. And let’s not forget that the holidays are approaching, which often means celebrating with food – heavy, rich food and lots of it! Luckily our guest blogger, Corinne Cook, is here to share some healthy recipes to nourish and comfort you and your family during the colder months. Happy, healthy holidays from all of us at VaxMaineKids!

By Corinne Cook, MSM, RD, LD

Healthy foods that are not only nutritious but are also comforting are especially important this time of year. So when the family is all gathered around the dinner table celebrating the spirit of the seasons, it is nice to remember that the foods we love to indulge in can be healthy too. These foods can range from warm roasted vegetables to flavorful whole grain salads to sweet treats we all know and love. Today we are going to explore the many delicious recipe options we can all enjoy as tasty additions to our holiday meals. We will also review some food safety tips to help you and your guests avoid illness.

Healthy Recipes to Try
Carrot-Ginger Soup is a warming and welcoming comfort on a cold autumn or winter day. This sweet and savory, smooth and silky soup is filled with antioxidants, vitamins A,C, and K, B vitamins, as well as minerals such as potassium and manganese, antioxidants, and fiber. This soup makes a delicious and nutritious starter or side dish to any holiday meal. It also makes a great main dish – try pairing it with a salad!

Hearty and seasonal staples such as butternut squash, celery root, potatoes and parsnips all combined with herbs and seasonings make Roasted Root Vegetables a scrumptious accompaniment to a meat or other main event. This delectable side dish is packed with vitamins A and C, B vitamins, minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium, as well as fiber.

Fresh kale, fennel, red onion and beets gently blended with tart and sweet cranberries alongside hearty quinoa are all combined with a sweet and tangy maple dressing, which make this Quinoa Salad come alive with flavor. This delightful side salad is packed with protein, vitamins A, C, and K, minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, powerful antioxidants, as well as fiber. Try serving cold for a refreshing crunch, or serve warm alongside your favorite main dish.

Apple and Berry Granola Crisp combines fresh berries and crunchy apples with all natural honey. It is topped with low fat/low sodium granola streusel for a deliciously sweet and healthy dessert loaded with vitamins A, C, E, and K, minerals such as potassium, manganese, and iron, as well as antioxidants and fiber. Baking this dish will also fill your home with a lovely aroma.
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Reinforcing Our Efforts to Keep Maine Immunization Rates on the Rise

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Posted on October 9th, 2015

The state of Maine received a great deal of attention recently following the release of results from the 2014 National Immunization Survey (NIS) by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These data indicate a notable rise in our toddler immunization rates, placing us among the states with the highest childhood immunization coverage estimates. Additional CDC data show a reduction in Maine’s kindergarten vaccine exemption rates in the 2014-15 school year. Although we are optimistic, we and our partners must continue to advocate for policies and activities proven to increase childhood immunization coverage. Kudos to Maine’s healthcare providers, public health partners, insurers, parents, and, most importantly, our blissfully unaware children who contributed to this great accomplishment!

Portrait of happy diligent pupil looking at her classmate at lesson

According to the 2014 NIS, an estimated 85% (± 5%) of Maine’s children between the ages of 19 and 35 months were up-to-date on a combined series of 7 recommended vaccines that protect against 11 diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, varicella (chickenpox), Haemophilus influenzae B (Hib), and pneumococcal disease. This is a significant increase from Maine’s estimated rates in 2012 (73%) and 2013 (71%), and it is significantly higher than the 2014 national rate (72%) and the 2014 rates of 30 other states. Additionally, the NIS results indicate that Maine’s estimated coverage for individual childhood vaccines is high, with statistically significant increases for ≥1 dose of hepatitis A vaccine from 2012 (70%) to 2014 (84%) and for ≥3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine from 2013 (85%) to 2014 (94%).

This trend is supported by a CDC assessment that shows a reduction in kindergarten exemptions from school required vaccines in Maine from 5.5% in the 2013-2014 school year to 4.4% in the 2014-2015 school year. Current Maine law requires kindergarteners to be immunized against pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, polio and varicella before they start school. However, the law includes a provision allowing parents to request vaccine exemptions for their children for any, or all, of the required vaccines due to philosophical, religious or medical reasons.

These data are encouraging because increased childhood immunization coverage means better protection for the whole community. When a high enough percentage of a population is immune to a disease, everyone in the population is protected against the disease, even those who cannot be vaccinated – this is known as “herd” immunity,” or community immunity. The population can be a school, a town, a county, or even the whole state. When the threshold for herd immunity is reached, the chance of cases or outbreaks of the disease occurring in the population is decreased. Continue reading

The Importance of Being on Time: Why the Vaccine Schedule Benefits Young Children

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Posted on August 26th, 2015

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week’s focus is on giving children “a healthy start” through immunization. Right from birth, children are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases that can result in severe consequences. Thankfully, vaccines are available to help protect babies when they are most vulnerable and offer protection throughout childhood and into adulthood. Now, we have more protection than ever for young children, with immunizations against 14 serious diseases! These vaccines work best when given according to the recommended schedules for ages 0-6 years and 7-18 years. Our guest blogger, Dr. Lynne Tetreault, is here to share her perspective as a Maine pediatrician on this important topic.


By Lynne Tetreault, MD

Happy almost back to school time! Like many parents this time of year, you may be trying to squeeze in the last few days of summer while making sure that your kids have what they need for school. You may also be preparing to return to a normal daily routine. Helping children adjust to the school schedule can prepare them for a successful year. But the school schedule isn’t the only one to think about – the immunization schedule is another important tool to help children thrive. Even if you have children who are too young for school, now is a great time to check their immunization record to be sure they up-to-date on their vaccines and that they get their next vaccines on time.

The Power of Vaccines

Childhood vaccines are important because they help prevent 14 serious and life-threatening diseases by the age of 2. I’ve heard people say that vaccine-preventable diseases are rare and that they aren’t very serious, but as a pediatrician, I can assure you that this simply isn’t true. Although we do see fewer cases of illness and death due to vaccine-preventable diseases than we have in the past (thanks to vaccines!), these diseases are still a threat. In 2014 there were 23 outbreaks of measles in the U.S. affecting 668 people from 27 states. This year, there have already been over 150 reported measles cases, most among people who were not vaccinated or who were unaware of their vaccination status. Outbreaks of whooping cough (pertussis) have also occurred in U.S. over the past few years, resulting in hundreds of infant deaths. In Maine, there have already been over 200 cases of pertussis this year, most in school-age children. Additionally, there were several reported outbreaks of chickenpox (varicella) in Maine schools at the beginning of the year. These are not mild diseases – they can be dangerous. For example, before the chickenpox vaccine, 100 kids (60 of whom were previously healthy kids) a year would die from chickenpox in this country – that’s 100 too many. Thankfully, I haven’t seen a patient die from strep meningitis in 17 years due to the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. If we stop vaccinating, or if the trend of rejecting the vaccine schedule continues, pediatricians like me will most certainly begin seeing more unnecessary illness, severe complications resulting in hospitalizations, and deaths again.

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Grown-Ups Need Shots, Too!

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Posted on August 19th, 2015

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week is dedicated to immunizations for adults, and though we usually focus on immunizations for children here at VaxMaineKids, we’d like to take a moment to remind you that “vaccines aren’t just for kids.” Older adults and adults with certain medical conditions or weakened immune systems are more at risk of illness, complications, and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. Healthy adults need vaccines too, to make sure they stay healthy. As we get older, immunity that we’ve acquired through previous vaccines may begin to wear off and we may need booster doses. Some vaccines are also recommended for travel or for specific jobs. And of course, when adults are vaccinated, the whole community benefits. To help us learn more about the vaccines that are recommended for adults, we are featuring a blog by Dr. Neil Korsen. You can also take this quiz (link to: ) and talk with your healthcare provider to find out what immunizations you might need.


This article also appeared on MaineHealth’s Learning Resource Center Blog which consistently shares reliable health information to the people of Maine in an effort to educate them about various health resources and services that are available throughout the state.

By Neil Korsen, MD
Medical Adviser, MaineHealth

Just because you are a grown-up, that doesn’t mean you are done having shots. August is Vaccination Awareness Month, a perfect time to be aware of what is recommended for you.

The following recommendations are for all adults. Some shots you only need to get once to catch up, and others are needed more than once, and should be a regular part of taking care of your health. There are special recommendations for people who have some health conditions – we will talk about those later.

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Protect Your Baby from Whooping Cough

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Posted on August 11th, 2015

By Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat

Ishutterstock_115541380t’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week’s theme is “Protect yourself and pass protection on to your baby.” Although there are some vaccines that women shouldn’t get while they are pregnant, several vaccines are safe in pregnancy and are even recommended. Diseases like influenza and whooping cough can be very serious for infants, and getting the flu while you’re pregnant can lead to complications for you. Getting vaccinated against flu and whooping cough is one of the best ways to protect mom and baby. Of course, it’s also important to be sure you are up-to-date on other vaccines before becoming pregnant. To learn more about vaccines that you may need before, during, and after pregnancy, take a look at this chart.   Because whooping cough continues to cause outbreaks in Maine and nationally, our guest blogger, Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat is here to help us spread the word about preventing additional cases in newborns.  

A newborn baby is exciting, and friends and family can’t wait to welcome the newest addition. It is such a special time for everyone, but it is important to remember that all those visitors can bring harmful germs with them. To keep your baby healthy, you should take every opportunity to protect them from diseases that can spread easily and quickly. That includes making sure that everyone who touches the baby washes their hands first and that those who are sick wait to visit until they are well. One of the most dangerous illnesses that a baby can get is whooping cough, or pertussis, which is easily spread from children and adults to infants through coughing and sneezing. Continue reading

Preteens and Teens: Ensure their Healthy Future with Vaccines

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Posted on August 6th, 2015

Adapted from the National Public Health Information Coalition

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month!  This week, August 2-8, the focus is on vaccines for preteens and teens.  It can be easy to forget that adolescents need vaccines too, especially when they’re busy with activities and they have fewer visits to see their healthcare providers than babies and young children. But it’s important to be sure they are protected because they are at greater risk for serious and potentially life-threatening diseases like meningitis, septicemia (blood infection), and the cancers caused by HPV infection.  Plus, the protection provided by some of the childhood vaccines (such as the vaccine to protect against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria) begins to wear off, so preteens need a booster dose. Being vaccinated not only helps protect adolescents from getting these diseases; it also helps stop the spread of these diseases to others in their family, classroom and community. This is especially important to help protect babies too young to be fully vaccinated, people age 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer, heart disease or other health conditions.

What Vaccines do Preteen and Teens Need?
There are four vaccines recommended for all preteens at ages 11 to 12. Teens may also need a booster dose of one of the shots or get any shots they may have missed. You can use any health care visit, including sports or camp physicals, checkups or some sick visits, to get the shots your kids need. The vaccines recommended for preteen and teen girls and boys are:

  • Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against four types of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria and is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis – a serious infection around the brain and spinal cord – in teens and young adults.
  • HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer. HPV can cause future cancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina in women and cancers of the penis in men. In both women and men, HPV also causes mouth/throat (oropharyngeal) cancer, anal cancer and genital warts.
  • Tdap vaccine, which is a booster shot against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Pertussis (whooping cough) can keep kids out of school and activities for weeks. It can also be spread to babies who are too young to be vaccinated, and this disease can be very dangerous and sometimes deadly for babies.
  • Influenza (flu) vaccine, because even healthy kids can get the flu, and it can be serious. All kids, including your preteens and teens, should get the flu vaccine every year. Parents should also get vaccinated to protect themselves and to help protect their children.

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