At Thanksgiving, when many of us come together with our families and take the time to think of all the good that has come our way, it also is come for us here at The Immunization Partnership to reach out to our family of supporters, experts and helpers to count the good work that has been done in the past year to protect the health of Texans and people beyond our borders.
Admittedly, it can be a challenge to find the bright spots in a year when a terrible flu season raged, killing 80,000 Americans in this previous flu season. That included 172 children, a record high for a non-pandemic year.
In addition, the number of completely toddlers who have received none of their routine recommended vaccinations has quadrupled in the past 15 years, a new report told us, and Hepatitis A, once a very rare disease in this country, made continued headlines this year as outbreaks struck several states and killed 7- people. As we reported in July:
The reports of hepatitis A spread to Colorado, Utah, Kentucky, New York, Indiana, West Virginia and Hawaii, among others. It’s believed that much of the spread to other states came from San Diego. The disease is transmitted by contact with even microscopic amounts of infected fecal matter.
There is much to be done in the field of vaccine awareness and education. Yet we also are aware that we truly have much to be grateful for, and many people to thank. The work of scientists, advocates, families and other caring people goes on and gives us great hope for a healthy 2019.
--Once again, the number of Texas students with non-medical exemptions from vaccines crept up slightly, a distressing trend. But we’re glad to see that overall vaccination rates remain high. Even more, we’re thankful to the parents at many private schools and public school districts where 100 percent of students have been vaccinated. Did your school make the list? You can check that out here.
--After two years of not being available because of studies showing lack of effectiveness, the nasal flu mist is back for this flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at new data on the spray and decided to allow its use again.
It’s worth noting that although the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a board that regularly examines vaccine science and makes recommendations to the CDC, voted in favor of allowing the flu mist again, the American Academy of Pediatrics was not convinced enough by the evidence to fully support that CDC recommendation. It takes the position that the flu shot is the better option overall, but that the mist should be considered an option of last resort.
But many parents will be grateful for this last resort. For children and adults who have such a strong fear of needles that they skip the annual shot, the nasal mist provides an option that can overcome their resistance. That’s better than being unvaccinated!
Be aware that the flu mist is recommended only for patients ages 2 to 49, who are not pregnant, and who meet a list of other criteria as well. For the full list go here.
--ACIP recently made another important recommendation: Routine, preventive hepatitis A vaccine for homeless people, who are at far higher risk for the disease because of the unsanitary conditions in which many of them life. Perhaps as a result, the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations from this disease will drop next year.
-- People 50 and older have shown huge enthusiasm for the new, more effective shingles vaccine. So much so, in fact, that there has been a serious shortage, with people placed on waiting lists and calling doctors repeatedly. Some people who received the first dose have had trouble getting the needed second dose within the recommended period.
How terrific it is to have a population that’s aware of the need for this vaccine; it’s great to know that as supplies of the vaccine become more plentiful, there will be many more protected people in the nation.
--An admiring thank-you to the Sidari family, who lost 4-year-old Leon Sidari to the flu just before Christmas last year. The parents, both Air Force physicians, have generously channeled their grief into a determination to protect other children from the disease through vaccination.
The family has started a foundation, Leon’s Gift, to raise awareness of how dangerous a disease the flu is and improve access to vaccination. They are sending a message that families should not procrastinate when it comes to getting their children vaccinated. Leon had been scheduled to get his vaccine just days after he fell ill. Leon’s mother Laura has been interviewed by People magazine and others about the importance of timely vaccination.
This year, we at The Immunization Partnership celebrated many of our partners through a series of profiles here on the blog. We wanted to let you know about what we call the “Everyday Vaccine Heroes,” people who either through personal experience or philosophy have joined us in advocating for protecting public health through vaccination.
We feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to these Texans who generously make the time to speak to others, write letters, post on social media, testify before the Texas Legislature and in many other ways make an effort to contribute to the health of others.
Greg Williams, whose son Nicolis died of bacterial meningitis seven years ago while attending Texas A&M University. Williams was one of the major forces behind a Texas law that requires the meningococcal vaccine for nearly all new college students whether they live in dorms or off campus. This year, Williams published a book about the terrible loss of his son and how this led him to advocate for others.
Jinny Suh, who created TIP’s affiliated organization, Immunize Texas, which provides the grassroots networking of parents and other community members to stand up for better health through vaccination. As we reported, almost a year ago, “Suh has been busy building the numbers of pro-vaccine parents into an active team that spreads evidence-based information about vaccines and supports efforts to strengthen the state’s vaccine laws.”
Lacy Waller, who involved herself in the movement out of personal conviction and a desire to volunteer. As we reported about her earlier this year: “Lacy Waller hardly misses a chance to share her message about the importance of vaccines. She testified before Texas lawmakers about the importance of providing parents with transparent information about vaccine exemption rates at their children’s schools. She educated herself so that she could be more effective at debating vaccine doubters online. Even a trip to the supermarket is a chance to make her views known, which she does with her Immunize Texas T-shirt that bears the message ‘Texans Protect Texans.’ “
Zack Lazar, a registered nurse who has gone out of his way – literally, by walking to the state Capitol building – to speak up for vaccination. As we reported: “Lazar joined with Immunize Texas to walk over to the Capitol building on Legislative Days, when the public is invited to talk with legislators and their staffs about various pieces of legislation. He used the iPads in the hallways, provided for people to give their opinions without in-person meetings, to outline the importance of vaccination in preventing serious illness, and the need to make sure that almost everyone receives the recommended vaccines. He wrote in support of the Parents’ Right to Know bill, which would have made each public school’s vaccine-exemption rate public so that parents sending their children to a school would know how safe it was from vaccine-preventable diseases, and he wrote against a bill that would have made it easier for parents to get an exemption for their children.”
Riki Graves, who “came to vaccine heroism via an extraordinary, life-challenging experience for both her and her daughter. It’s a story so touching that even vaccine-doubting legislators feel compelled to sit and listen to her, about her healthy, happy toddler whose life could be threatened by vaccine-preventable disease and who can be protected only if almost all the people around her have received their immunizations.”
Carol Roach, raised by an anti-vaccine mother, who discovered the truth about vaccines as a science student in college. “In testifying against the Texas exemption bill,” we wrote about her work, “Roach spoke on behalf of the children who, like her and her siblings, have been denied the opportunity to be vaccinated, on behalf of the children who cannot be vaccinated because of their own medical problems, and as a chemist who is fully versed in the science.”
Many others support this work in various ways, through volunteering, through donations and simply by informally talking to others and spreading the facts about vaccination, helping to dispel myths and quell fears. May we all find new reasons to be grateful in the coming year.
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