Category Archives: Parent Perspective


Six Tips for Setting Limits on Screen Time for Kids During the Summer

Posted on July 19th, 2016

iStock_000015419421XSmallSchool is out, schedules have loosened up, and parents and kids alike are turning to phones, tablets, gaming systems, TV and movies for summer entertainment. But the experts agree that too much time spent on digital devices can hold back a child’s development. So what can Maine parents do to balance screen time with real-world summertime adventures? Continue reading

A Maine Family’s Story – the Nightmare of Meningitis

Posted on April 24th, 2015

by Jeri Brooks Greenwell

In 2014, the State of Maine passed a Joint Resolution recognizing World Meningitis Day as April 24th. In honor of this day, Vax Maine Kids would like to share the story of a local Bethel mom, Jeri Brooks Greenwell, who lost her son Jerry to meningococcal meningitis 12 years ago. In sharing her family’s story, Vax Maine Kids hopes to raise awareness about this disease and the vaccination that can help prevent it.

As with most parents, we were very proud of our son. Although a mere statistic to some, he was—to many—a very special young man.

Scan_20150422Jerry had an infectious smile and an innate ability to motivate and mentor his peers. As a testament of his character, Jerry was selected by the local Rotary to be its first student to participate in its year-long Exchange Program in Germany during his junior year in high school. Following graduation from college he became Restaurant Supervisor at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in Portland, Maine. His life was full of promise, or so we thought.

All too soon our lives would change forever.

We will never forget April 11-14, 2003. Jerry awoke that morning with what he thought to be a case of the flu. As these symptoms worsened, his ability to walk diminished and rashes appeared on his legs; his friends frantically carried him to the Emergency Room. Jerry was diagnosed with an unknown strain of meningitis and placed in the Critical Care Unit. It was then that we were notified that something was terribly wrong with our son. None of us could even imagine the consequences to follow.

As we stood idly by, unable to do anything to help, we watched our son fade away before our eyes. How could our beautiful, 6’3”, solidly built, exceptionally young and healthy child possibly be ill? Each small glimmer of hope was quickly followed by yet another devastating blow. Hours passed. Jerry was drifting further and further away and all we could do was watch, and pray.

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Contact Maine Legislators to Support Immunization Bills

Posted on April 16th, 2015

At Vax Maine Kids, we’re grateful that the majority of Maine parents fully immunize their children according to the recommended vaccination schedule. But it’s hard not to worry about children whose parents delay or refuse vaccines.  While these parents may believe they’re making decisions in their child’s best interest, they are usually based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of the science, safety, and regulation of vaccines. 

image001That is why we need your help!  During this legislative session, elected representatives from Maine will be voting on important immunization bills that can help keep Maine children free from vaccine preventable diseases. 

We know that parents who are against some or all vaccines will come to the State House in large numbers to share their stories.  They will rely on emotional, yet anecdotal stories to trump decades of science and research and will do their best to convince legislators not to put policies in place o educate parents about vaccines and protect children from dangerous diseases. We can’t let that happen, so we’re calling on the silent majority of Maine parents who immunize their children to have their pro-vaccine voices heard. Call, email, or write your legislator today to support vaccine laws based in science. Do it for your family, your children, and your community. 

Our mission at Vax Maine Kids is to share evidence-based vaccine information and resources with Maine parents. Part of that mission also involves promoting policies and programs that have been show to help increase children’s immunization rates. All states require children to have received certain immunizations before starting school because it is a strategy that ensures communities reach levels of immunity that can protect everyone from diseases. Under current Maine law, all children enrolled in licensed child care facilities and schools (public and private) must be immunized against several vaccine-preventable diseases including: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella (chickenpox), diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, (with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Hib, Rotavirus and Pneumococcal also required for daycare).  

Currently, parents can elect to not vaccine their children against these diseases for medical, religious or personal belief reasons.  Just a simple signature from a parent is all it takes to avoid immunization requirements – making it easier and more convenient to opt-out of vaccinations than to follow the law. 

Maine is one of only 19 states that allow for personal belief exemptions and they made up more than 95% of all exemptions among Kindergarteners in the 2013-2014 school year.  

ImmunizationsUnfortunately, immunization coverage in Maine has reached dangerously low levels, leaving not just children, but all Mainers at increased risk of serious diseases.  Consider the following statistics: Continue reading

Parents Eager for Measles Vaccine During Outbreak

Posted on February 12th, 2015

At Vax Maine Kids, our mission is to help keep Maine children healthy by encouraging parents to vaccinate them according to the immunization schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s why Maine parents who have questions about vaccines often turn to Vax Maine Kids for answers. Right now, we’re hearing a lot of concerns from parents about the rising number of measles cases in the U.S. due to the outbreak starting at Disneyland this past December. Unfortunately, with 141 measles cases in as many as 17 states so far this year, the U.S. is on a collision course towards reaching a startling statistic in 2015 – having the highest number of measles cases in the past decade in a single year.  All of this information and resulting media coverage has parents starting to worry and wonder…

measles“How likely is it that this outbreak will eventually make its way to Maine?”  


“What can be done to make sure our children and our communities are safe?”   Continue reading

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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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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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.

I’m Pregnant. Should I Get a Flu Shot?

Posted on September 4th, 2013

Yes! The influenza vaccine is a safe, simple and smart way for pregnant women in Maine to protect themselves and their babies.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child (with the second, this feeling wasn’t quite so intense, as I am sure moms of multiple kids can attest to!), I started thinking twice about almost everything. Is this good for me? Is this good for my baby? I knew that getting my annual influenza (flu) shot has always been an important part of staying healthy. What I didn’t realize was that it’s especially important if you are pregnant during flu season (October to March).

In fact, it’s twice as important.  Here’s what I learned after talking with my OB and some healthcare specialists I work with:

1. Pregnant women are more likely to get sick from the flu. Your body is under a lot of stress right now. Your heart, lungs, and immune system are working much harder to support and protect you and your baby. You can’t fight off infections as well as you used to. And if you get sick, it may take you longer to get well.

Influenza is particularly dangerous for pregnant women because the flu spreads very easily, and because the flu can make it harder to breathe. With lower immunity and increased pressure on your lungs, pregnant women are more likely to get the flu and more likely to develop serious complications like pneumonia as a result. And that’s not all. According to the Mayo Clinic, pregnant women with the flu are at higher risk for miscarriage, low birth weight and premature birth.

Pregnant women are also highly likely to pass their infections on to their newborn babies. Maine just had one of the most active flu seasons in recent years. The risk, particularly in Maine, is very real.

2. Infants and babies are more likely to get sick from the flu—and be hospitalized as a result. During the first six months of life, newborn babies will be too young to be vaccinated against the flu. Your baby will be relying on you—and your family and friends—for protection. If you are vaccinated, you aren’t just protecting yourself. You are protecting your new baby from a potentially life-threatening illness.  Research shows that giving pregnant women the flu shot protects both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from flu.

Infants and babies who fall ill with the flu are hospitalized at very high rates. Infants and babies are also more likely to develop life-threatening complications from the flu. Maine parents were reminded how important flu shots are when a six-year-old girl in Benton died from the flu in 2012.

The best way to prevent influenza from hurting your baby is to get immunized while you are pregnant. You pass your antibodies against the flu on to your baby through the placenta. In a 2011 study, babies whose mothers had a flu shot during pregnancy were nearly 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with the flu during their first flu season than were babies whose mothers didn’t have a flu shot during pregnancy.

At Vax Maine Kids, we know you want to keep your baby safe. So what should you do?

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a flu shot. The traditional flu shot is made from an inactivated (or dead) virus, and research has shown it is safe for you and your baby. Even if you are afraid of needles, avoid the nasal spray vaccine—it is made from a live virus. (You can learn more about how vaccines are made on our website.) Tell your doctor if you are allergic to eggs.
  • Ask anyone visiting or caring for your new baby if they have had their flu shot. Creating a special safe zone around your baby is called “cocooning”, and it is a wonderful way to protect your baby while he or she develops stronger immunity. To create a safe cocoon for your new baby, ask grandparents, daycare providers and friends if their immunizations are up-to-date. If your new baby has older brothers and sisters, check their immunizations as well.

FEEL GOOD ABOUT … Protecting your new baby before and after birth from influenza, a potentially dangerous disease that hit Maine hard last year.

TALK ABOUT … Whether or not your friends, family and your baby’s caregivers have had their annual flu shot. Explain why this is important to you, and ask anyone helping you care for your baby to also help you keep your baby safe.

Cassandra Cote Grantham is the Program Director for Child Health at MaineHealth and has two children under age 3!

I’m Pregnant. Should I Get the Tdap Vaccine?

Posted on August 2nd, 2013

Yes! The Tdap vaccine is a safe, simple and smart way for pregnant women in Maine to protect themselves and their babies from pertussis (whooping cough), a very serious disease.

Pertussis (otherwise known as whooping cough) is spread very easily and causes severe periods of coughing. It can take months to recover from pertussis, and the disease can lead to cracked ribs from coughing or pneumonia. You and most of the people you know were probably vaccinated against pertussis as children. But as we get older, our immunity to pertussis gets weaker, making it easier for us to get it again.

Pertussis outbreaks are on the rise in Maine. Now more than ever, children over age 11, adults, and seniors need to boost their immunity with the Tdap vaccine. If you are pregnant, it is very important for you and the people around you to get vaccinated against pertussis with the Tdap vaccine.

In fact, it’s twice as important:

1. Pregnant women are more likely to get sick from pertussis. Your body is under a lot of stress right now. Your heart, lungs and immune system are working much harder to support and protect you and your baby. You can’t fight off infections as well as you used to. And if you get sick, it may take you longer to get well.

Pertussis is particularly dangerous for pregnant women because pertussis is spread very easily, and because pertussis can make it much harder to breathe. With lower immunity and higher pressure on their lungs, pregnant women are more likely to get pertussis and more likely to develop serious problems as a result.

2. Infants and babies are more likely to get sick from pertussis—and be hospitalized as a result. During the first six months of life, your newborn baby will be too young to be vaccinated against pertussis. Your baby will be relying on you—and your family and friends—for protection. If you are vaccinated, you aren’t just protecting yourself. You are protecting your new baby from a potentially life-threatening illness that is becoming increasingly common in Maine.

Women are highly likely to pass their infections on to their newborn babies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 30-40% of infants with pertussis caught the disease from their mothers.

Infants and babies who fall ill with pertussis are hospitalized at very high rates. In fact, the CDC reports that more than half of infants with pertussis must be hospitalized. 20% of these babies develop pneumonia, and yes, even today, some of these babies die. The best way to prevent pertussis from hurting your baby is to get immunized while you are pregnant.

Just one dose of Tdap vaccine during your pregnancy prevents you from infecting your baby during and after delivery. And if you breastfeed your new baby, you can pass your own pertussis antibodies on to your baby as well.

At Vax Maine Kids, we know you want to keep your baby safe. So what should you do?

  • Ask your doctor for a Tdap vaccine every time you are pregnant. The very best time for you to be vaccinated is between weeks 27 and 36 of any pregnancy you have since this allows you to pass your antibodies against pertussis on to your baby through your placenta.  But, the most important thing is that you get immunized either before, or right after, your baby is born. The Tdap vaccine has been given to pregnant women all over the world since the 1960s, and has never been shown to harm them, or their babies. The vaccine is safe for you and for your baby.  Breastfeeding will only help protect your baby more since you will continue to share your antibodies through breast milk.
  • Ask anyone visiting or caring for your new baby if they have had their flu shot or Tdap vaccine. Creating a special safe zone around your baby is called “cocooning”, and it is a very good way to protect your baby before he or she can be immunized against pertussis at 2 months old.  Even after their first vaccination, babies are still at risk, so “cocooning” helps keep them safe while they develop stronger immunity to pertussis, which happens around 12-18 months.

Ask grandparents, daycare providers and friends if their immunizations are up-to-date. The CDC recommends Tdap boosters for all adults over the age 19, especially if they will soon be around a new baby. If your new baby will have older brothers and sisters, double-check their immunizations as well. Children between the ages of 11 and 18 years need the Tdap vaccine, even if they were vaccinated as babies.

FEEL GOOD ABOUT … Protecting your new baby before and after birth from pertussis,  a very contagious and dangerous disease that is on the rise in Maine.

TALK ABOUT … Whether or not your friends, family, and your baby’s caregivers have had Tdap vaccines. Explain why this is important to you, and ask anyone helping you care for your baby to also help you keep your baby safe by getting vaccinated.