Category Archives: Science & Research

 

Contact Maine Legislators to Support Immunization Bills

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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

Supporting World Autism Awareness Day

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Posted on April 2nd, 2015
Photo: CARE/David Rochkind, Design: Kim Conger

Photo: CARE/David Rochkind, Design: Kim Conger

Vax Maine Kids wants to help build communities across Maine that care about the health and wellbeing of our children. While our efforts mainly focus on vaccinations as one of the best ways to keep our communities free of diseases, we also support a lot of other children’s health issues so that every child can lead a full, healthy and meaningful life. 

That is why on World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd), we want to highlight the various resources dedicated to supporting children with autism here in Maine. 

It has been said, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”  

Children with autism have different strengths and weaknesses, abilities and limitations; and struggles and achievements. Some are nonverbal and may never speak, many are highly intelligent and learn to read and write early on, and some have unbelievable gifts for math, music, or art. As we work to generate greater awareness of what autism is, we must understand that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of neurological disorders that can impair social, communicative and cognitive functions.  While no two children with autism are exactly alike, all are special. 

The need for research and support.

Unfortunately, when it comes to autism there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Parents often ask, “What causes autism?  Can it be prevented?  How do I know if my child has autism? How can we help our children who may be on the spectrum?”

While years of scientific study haven’t been able to tell us a specific “cause”, science has helped us learn a great deal about autism spectrum disorders and the possible genetic factors that appear to contribute to them.  

Ongoing research continues to help with diagnoses and treatment, but there is still such a great need to support the autistic community in ways that extend beyond those living with autism.  There is also a need to offer resources and support for parents, siblings, educators, therapists, and caregivers.  

One such resource is a collection of autism toolkits compiled by the NIH Office of Autism Research Coordination. This collection covers topics such as health, safety, employment, housing, education, and daily living for children and adults.

Research has proven that vaccines do not cause autism.  Continue reading

Safe Sleep for Every Baby in Maine

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Posted on March 25th, 2015

By, Jennifer Hayman, MD and Kelley Bowden, Perinatal Outreach Nurse Educator

Safe sleep imageEarly on in my career as a doctor who works with children in the hospital (called a pediatric hospitalist), I had to care for babies who had been hurt during sleep – they had developed pneumonia, nerve and brain damage, and some died. During my medical training, I had learned about the “Back to Sleep” campaign that was started in the early 1990s by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It was one of the most successful public health campaigns and played a huge role in reducing SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by half since it began.  I made sure to tell new parents, “Put your baby to sleep on her back,” but, other than that, I wasn’t sure what else I could do to protect children during sleep.  

I wanted to find out more about how to prevent sleep injuries and deaths in babies, so I partnered with other doctors and Kelley Bowden, a neonatal nurse practitioner and Maine’s Perinatal Outreach Nurse Educator, to find out more about this issue right in my own backyard of Southern Maine.

 

We learned quickly and were often saddened by what we found:

  • Only 1-2 Maine babies each year die of SIDS, where no risk factors or cause of death can be found
  • 10-12 babies die each year in Maine in unsafe sleep situations*. These include:
    • Babies not sleeping on their backs
    • Bed sharing (a baby sleeping on a bed, sofa, chair, or any other surface with an adult and/or other children)
    • Having bumper pads, pillows, bedding, stuffed animals and other items in the crib 
    • Unsafe swaddling
  • Already in 2015, 5 Maine infants have died during unsafe sleep situations.  You may have seen some of the media coverage related to this sad statistic in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News

Safe to Sleep LogoWhen we started learning about this issue, we never imagined that we would become unofficial spokeswomen for safe sleep in Maine, but we have become very passionate about this topic, especially since we became moms several years ago.  That’s why Kelley and I continue to work together to help many Maine advocacy and government health groups to decrease the numbers of babies dying each year while sleeping. We have educated doctors and nurses in Maine’s hospitals and newborn nurseries to not only use safe sleep practices for families of small babies while they are in the hospital, but to also teach them  to use the practices once they are sent home.

 

The following are a few important tips for all caregivers of babies: Continue reading

Rare Disease Day: Let’s Make All Diseases Rare

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Posted on February 26th, 2015

10996554_10152558348346470_1838414455972928229_nThere are more than 6,000 known rare diseases affecting millions of children and adults all over the world. Every February Rare Disease Day raises awareness of diseases that are not seen often and are usually misunderstood.  The goal is to direct more funding and research into finding cures, new treatments, or even vaccines to help prevent more people from suffering rare diseases. At Vax Maine Kids, we’re proud to support Rare Disease Day 2015. We know that investing in and trusting sound scientific research brings us closer to a world without these diseases every day.  

Each of us probably know of someone with a rare disease.  In the United States, 1 in 10 people have a rare disease.  Two-thirds of these people are children.  Families often have trouble getting life-saving medical treatment or other services because insurers, medical professionals and elected officials may not be familiar with these diseases.  

In the U.S., a disease is considered rare if it affects fewer than 200,000 people.  Some, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), are well-known.  Many others are not. Imagine the frustration someone must feel if they have a disease that most people have never heard of, has no treatment, and is not even being studied by medical researchers. (Click here to see a list of rare diseases often seen in the U.S.)

At Vax Maine Kids, we are extremely grateful that vaccines have worked so well at preventing many diseases that used to destroy entire communities. Since Edward Jenner’s discovery of vaccination, several terrible diseases are now considered rare diseases: 

  • Smallpox once killed five million people every year, but was wiped out in 1980 through vaccination. The smallpox vaccine is a powerful example of how vaccines can change the world. 

Continue reading

Parents Eager for Measles Vaccine During Outbreak

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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?”  

AND 

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

Cervical Cancer and HPV: Prevention is Possible

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Posted on February 2nd, 2015

by Chelsea Ginn, FNP-BC

Cervical cancer is caused by a virus known as the human papillomavirus (HPV). Not only is it one of the few types of cancer for which the cause is known, but it’s also one of only two types of cancer that can be prevented with a vaccine. That’s good news because HPV is extremely common. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people will get the virus at some point in their lives, though most will never know theyve been infected. When the infection doesn’t clear on its own, HPV can lead to genital warts or certain cancers. This includes cervicalvaginal, and vulvar cancers in women, penile cancer in men, as well as anal cancer, and mouth/throat (oropharyngeal) cancer in both men and women.

In the United States alone, 27,000 people are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer every year.  That translates to a new case every 20 minutes!

Continue reading

The Importance of Flu Vaccination During this Severe Flu Season

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Posted on January 8th, 2015

Earlier this week, the Sun Journal reported that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention raised the status of the flu in Maine to “widespread” after confirmed cases were found in all of Maine’s 16 counties. With reports that this flu season may be more severe due to the specific strains going around, it’s important that everyone six months and older receive a flu vaccination so that they have the best defense against the flu and its dangerous complications.

Image courtesy of flunearyou.org.

Image courtesy of flunearyou.org.

Why do Maine families need a flu vaccine every year?

When unusual diseases like Ebola take over the news, it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest threats to our health is much more common: influenza, also known as the flu. You may think the flu is no big deal, but complications from the flu can be serious and even life-threatening.

Influenza can be particularly harmful to young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. It can also claim the lives of healthy children and adults so we recommend that everyone six months and older get an influenza vaccine every year to help prevent the flu.

Continue reading

Breastfeeding Alone is Not Enough to Protect Babies from Dangerous Diseases

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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.

Continue reading

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

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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 HistoryofVaccines.org 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.

Say Anything: Straight Talk on VAERS and Vaccines

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Posted on May 16th, 2014

truthVAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System, is one of the many ways the government monitors the safety of vaccines after they are approved and found safe for use. Managed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), VAERS is an easy way for anyone who has a negative reaction to a vaccine to report that reaction right away. Parents who vaccinate their kids should feel safer knowing vaccines are constantly being monitored and that every report of a problem can be documented. But, if someone tries to scare you with a vaccine injury report from VAERS, Vax Maine Kids wants you to know these reports can’t always be trusted.

Anti-vaxxers often use VAERS reports to try to scare parents away from vaccines that have been proven to be safe and effective for children. It’s pretty easy to find a report of a negative reaction to any vaccine on VAERS because it’s very easy to report a reaction to a vaccine on VAERS.

And it should be easy! The FDA and the CDC want to know as soon as possible if a vaccine is causing any harm. However, this openness and accessibility can also cause problems when using VAERS to measure the safety of vaccines. Spontaneous reporting systems like VAERS are meant to give the FDA and CDC an early warning about any potential problems with vaccines, but VAERS is not meant to provide parents, public health officials, or scientists with data about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Why? As the VAERS website explains, “A report to VAERS generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described.”

More than 10 million vaccines are administered every year to children less than one year old. VAERS receives between 10,000 and 20,000 reports of adverse reactions each year. But rigorous, sustained scientific studies have shown that the CDC-recommended vaccination schedule is safe and effective for kids and helps keep kids safe. So, what gives?

  • VAERS wants you to report a negative reaction even if you aren’t sure the vaccine is what caused that reaction.
    Serious side effects or bad reactions to vaccines are extremely, unbelievably rare, and many VAERS reports aren’t actually reports of bad reactions to a vaccine—they’re reports of a coincidence. A concerned parent who reports her daughter ran a fever after her MMR vaccine isn’t going to bother to retract her report when everyone else in the family gets the same fever and she realizes it was the flu, not the vaccine. But her report stays in the VAERS database forever.
  • VAERS reports can’t be verified.
    VAERS doesn’t ask you to prove your identity or provide any proof of your claim. And once you’ve made that report, it’s published for everyone to see. Scientists and researchers have been warned they can’t rely on VAERS data for their studies. So why would Maine parents rely only on VAERS data when making decisions about their children’s health?

This blog—like most blogs—receives hundreds of comments for each post. Are we that popular? Not really. Like most blogs, over 90% of those comments are computer-generated spam that are routinely filtered out by our blogging software before we even see them. Your email program probably does something similar with the hundreds of bogus, spam, and phishing emails you get every day. Software filters are very good at separating fake comments and emails from the messages you really want to receive, but every once in a while, a fake message gets through or a real one gets blocked. The FDA and the CDC want to be absolutely sure that every real report gets through, so they don’t block any reports at all.

VAERS has no filters. And as a result, VAERS is full of spam—false reports planted by anti-vaccine activists who want to scare and mislead people, and by lawyers planting evidence for cases they are trying in court.

  • Many reports of adverse (or negative) reactions to vaccines on VAERS were put there to help win a court case.
    A 2006 study published in Pediatrics found most VAERS reports linking vaccines to autism were filed in connection with court cases to try and create evidence lawyers could use in court. As Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote, “Public health officials were disappointed to learn that reports of autism to VAERS weren’t coming from parents, doctors, nurses, or nurse practitioners; they were coming from personal-injury lawyers.” Many VAERS posts have an agenda, and it isn’t the safety of your kids.
  • Bad press creates a spike in false reports on VAERS.
    When a vaccine gets a lot of negative attention in the press, people become more likely to blame that vaccine for unrelated problems. When Gardisil was new and controversial and getting lots of airtime on the nightly news and talk shows, reports of bad reactions to Gardisil on VAERS went up.But when those reports were investigated and further studies were done, Gardisil was proven to be safe for teens.VAERS reports are too easily influenced by media hype for Maine parents to base important decisions on them.
  • People have admitted to knowingly posting false information on VAERS.
    An autism activist named Jim Laidler submitted a report on VAERS claiming a vaccine turned him into the Incredible Hulk. This completely ridiculous report was accepted and entered into the VAERS database. But when a VAERS representative contacted Mr. Laidler, he admitted it was a made-up claim. This fake report was easy for VAERS administrators to spot, but most fake claims sound a lot more plausible. Because VAERS gives every report the benefit of the doubt, Maine parents should always be doubtful of the truth of individual reports. The best source to go to for information about vaccines is your doctor or child’s pediatrician.

Self-reporting is a fast way to get a quick scoop, but it is a very flawed way to conduct real science. VAERS is a fantastic early warning system and Maine parents should feel great knowing it is part of the thorough safety net surrounding children’s vaccines. That said, if someone you know tries to scare you with a VAERS report about a vaccine, we advise asking them to show you a real report—the kind of report that is verified, researched, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and supported by real scientific data and research. These reports have shown again and again that vaccines protect children, are safe for children, and that every child who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated.

Photo credit: delimiter.com.au