Archive for January, 2014

A needle-free vaccine patch that’s safer and way cheaper

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 (last updated)

One hundred sixty years after the invention of the needle and syringe, we’re still using them to deliver vaccines; it’s time to evolve. Biomedical engineer Mark Kendall demos the Nanopatch, a one-centimeter-by-one-centimeter square vaccine that can be applied painlessly to the skin. He shows how this tiny piece of silicon can overcome four major shortcomings of the modern needle and syringe, at a fraction of the cost.

Mark Kendall aims to shake up how vaccines are delivered with the Nanopatch.


Getting a flu vaccine is a safe way to prevent serious illness

Monday, January 20th, 2014 (last updated)

For millions of people each year, the flu can cause a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, chills, and miserable days spent in bed instead of at work or school. However, you may not realize that more than 200,000 people are estimated to end up in the hospital from flu complications each year in the United States. And while unpredictable, the flu can be serious, even deadly. CDC estimates that between 1976 and 2007 annual flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people during the most severe season.

CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season, even if you were vaccinated in prior years. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. The vaccine is a safe way to protect yourself from the flu and potentially serious complications, like pneumonia. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades.

Flu vaccines are made each year to protect against the flu viruses that worldwide surveillance indicates are the most likely to cause widespread illness during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called “trivalent” vaccines) are available, in addition to flu vaccines made to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). The trivalent vaccine will protect against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. The quadrivalent vaccine will protect against the same three viruses as the trivalent vaccine, but it also protects against an additional influenza B virus. CDC does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other. The important thing is to get a flu vaccine every year.

Neither the flu shot nor the nasal spray vaccine can give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness. The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The nasal-spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do experience them at all, these side effects are usually mild and short- lived, lasting 1-2 days after vaccination.

“Stringent vaccine safety processes are followed every year for flu vaccines. Before flu vaccines are approved, they undergo careful testing, and each batch is checked for purity and strength before it is released,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC’s Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Seasonal flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years, and have consistently had a very safe track record.”

Dr Anne Schuchat

Every year, CDC works closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor the safety of influenza vaccines. CDC and FDA share in the responsibility of monitoring the safety of vaccines and ensuring systems are in place to promptly detect unexpected health problems following vaccination.

“Vaccines are medicines, and taking any medicine can carry some risk,” adds Dr. Schuchat. “With the flu vaccine, that risk is extremely small. The risks associated with getting the flu are far greater.”

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, retail stores and pharmacies, and health centers, as well as by many employers and schools.

For more information about the dangers of flu and the benefits and safety of the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor or nurse, visit, or call CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).


What happens when you don’t get vaccinated You’ve heard a lot from the anti-vaccination crowd lately—but here’s the other side of the story

Saturday, January 18th, 2014 (last updated)

Earlier this week, Slate published an essay from an English woman named Amy Parker who wasn’t immunized as a child—and she says she went on to develop measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox because of it.

“My mother would have put most of my current ‘crunchy’ friends to shame,” writes Parker. “She didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do drugs, and we certainly weren’t allowed to watch whatever we wanted on telly or wear plastic shoes or any of that stuff. She lived alternative health. And you know what? I’m glad she gave us such a great diet. I’m glad that she cared about us in that way. But it just didn’t stop me getting childhood illnesses.”

It makes sense that the writer got many of these diseases since they were more common in previous decades. Measles, for example, wasn’t eliminated in the U.S. until 2000 (although it’s worth noting that Parker lives in the U.K.).

MORE: Do you know what vaccines you need?

And while many of the diseases from which the writer suffered are now rare in this country, that doesn’t mean that children who aren’t immunized today are totally, well, immune. Yes, the odds are less likely that young people will contract them (it’s the concept of something called herd immunity at work; the more people who are immunized against a given disease, the less prevalent the condition will be and the less likely anyone will get it—even those who aren’t immunized). Still, many of the diseases we’ve pretty much eliminated in the U.S. are still an issue in other countries.

MORE: The new flu shot: should you get it?

Consider these stats on measles from the CDC: Sixty people contract measles each year in the U.S., on average, but there were 159 cases reported between January and August of 2013. “About 26 percent of these people got measles in other countries,” reads the CDC report. “They brought the disease to the United States and spread it to others. This caused eight measles outbreaks in various U.S. communities, including the largest U.S. measles outbreak since 1996.” Similarly, there have been a few notable mumps outbreaks in recent years, even though the condition is thought of as an arcane disease.

“I think this woman’s story is just a perfect example of how these diseases are ruthless,” says Keri Peterson, M.D., a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a medical advisor for Women’s Health. “If you aren’t vaccinated, no matter how healthy a lifestyle you have, it’s not going to protect you from these serious, serious illnesses. … So many people think, ‘It won’t happen to my kid,’ but it can happen to anyone—any child is susceptible.”

Of course any vaccine comes with potential risks, but Parker’s account—and others like it—are part of the reason why Peterson is a vocal advocate of vaccines for anyone who’s not allergic to the components they contain.

“By not [getting your child immunized], you make not only them susceptible—you also create a health risk for the general population at large,” she says.


Women’s Health

Would you cross the bridge?

Friday, January 17th, 2014 (last updated)


Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes

Text messaging boosts flu vaccine rates in pregnant women

Thursday, January 16th, 2014 (last updated)

A study by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health evaluated the impact of text messaging reminders for influenza vaccine in a low-income obstetric population.

The findings showed that sending text messages to this population of women resulted in an uptick in influenza vaccination, especially for those who received the messages early in their third trimester. Results from the paper, “Influenza VaccineText Message Reminders for Urban, Low-Income Pregnant Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” were published in the American Journal of Public Health, a special issue on the latest methods and practices in improving birth outcomes.

The researchers followed 1,187 obstetric patients from five community-based clinics in New York City that are part of an ambulatory care network which routinely provides influenza vaccinations to pregnant women. Women in the intervention group received five weekly text messages about the importance of the vaccine starting in mid-September 2011 and two text message appointment reminders. Both groups received standard automated telephone appointment reminders.


The results showed that text messaging was successfully used to increase vaccination coverage. Adjusting for gestational age and number of clinic visits, women who received the intervention were 30% more likely to be vaccinated. A subgroup of women early in the third trimester had the highest intervention effect – 61.9% of the intervention group was vaccinated versus 49% for the control group.

Vaccine text message reminder-recalls in this population have been limited. Earlier studies by some of these investigators at Columbia looked at text messaging vaccine reminder-recalls to improve influenza vaccination rates in pediatric and adolescent populations.

“Vaccination during pregnancy helps to protect newborns,” said Melissa Stockwell, MD, MPH, Mailman School assistant professor of Population and Family Health and assistant professor of Pediatrics at Columbia and a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “To achieve protection before influenza begins circulating in the community, we strongly recommend that women receive influenza vaccination during pregnancy and as soon as the vaccine becomes available in the fall.”

Cellular News

Liberia begins protecting its children from pneumococcal disease

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 (last updated)

pneumococcal disease

Children across Liberia are now receiving protection against one of the leading vaccine-preventable killers of children as the country today celebrates the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine (PCV).

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was joined at the launch event, held at the JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, by representatives of the GAVI Alliance who provides the vaccines, cabinet ministers and senior politicians, representatives of the diplomatic corps, UNICEF, WHO, health workers, parents and babies.

Speaking at the event, President Sirleaf said, “Health is a priority for Liberia, and we are grateful for the support from partners to introduce this new vaccine. But the responsibility for delivering services to the population is with the country. Liberia is committed to allocate more resources to health including immunization”.

“Liberia has a most impressive story to share on the progress that can be made in immunization, and consequently child survival, in spite of the challenges facing the country as a result of their civil war,” said Helen Evans, Deputy CEO of the GAVI Alliance speaking at the launch event. “The introduction of this vaccine will further reduce the death and disability caused by pneumonia, specifically amongst children under the age of five who are most vulnerable.”

UNICEF Country Representative, Sheldon Yett said that the introduction of PCV is the best gift the Liberian government can give to its children. “Far too many children are dying from diseases that a simple injection could have prevented. UNICEF and WHO will continue to work with the government and other partners to improve immunization services and the introduction of additional vaccines,” he said.

Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of pneumonia, which accounts for almost one fifth of deaths of children under five worldwide. In Liberia alone it is estimated that 7,000 children die each year from pneumococcal disease (14% of the children in the age group).

Vaccinating all children, with particular emphasis on those hardest to reach, is one of the best public health investments a country can make. It provides an enormous return on investment, regardless of how it is measured, whether in terms of deaths averted, fewer illnesses or lower health costs, Yett added.

In 2014, the pneumonia vaccine will reach about 90% of children under one year old in Liberia (about 140,000 children), according to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The pneumococcal vaccine will be a part of the national routine immunization programme.


The economic cost of measles vaccine refusal

Monday, January 13th, 2014 (last updated)

The measles virus is among the most infectious of all know viruses, with an attack rate of well over 90%. That means that over 90% of susceptible people — those who have not been vaccinated or who have not had the disease — will get it if exposed. I’ve seen one case, and that was thirty years ago, although my parents showed me a picture of what I looked like with measles in 1958.


Before the introduction of a vaccine in 1963 measles caused about 4 million cases annually in the USA, leading to 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths. That’s a lot of kids in the hospital and a significant mortality. The measles vaccine has nearly eliminated these things, but not entirely. I recently ran across an interesting article from a couple of years ago that investigated a measles mini-epidemic that happened in Southern California. One thing that caught my eye, something I had not considered before, was the economic cost of the epidemic.

The outbreak happened when an unvaccinated seven-year-old child returned from Europe after being exposed to measles there, and proceeded to expose other children. Like many viruses, people who are infected shed virus before they know they are sick; think of it as a crafty strategy the virus uses to spread itself.

Although 879 people were exposed, most of these were vaccinated so only 12 secondary cases occurred, all in unvaccinated children. Nine of these children were deliberately unvaccinated, but three of them were too young to have received the vaccine. One three-month-old had to be hospitalized. Forty-eight children too young to be vaccinated had to be quarantined at home for several days.

The authors estimated the economic costs of the entire epidemic, including lost work time for parents, costs of treatment, and time spent by the health department investigating it, at nearly eleven thousand dollars per case. So besides saving lives, measles vaccine reduces healthcare costs significantly.


In some countries vaccine takes a long journey to save a life

Sunday, January 12th, 2014 (last updated)

Reaching a remote settlement of refugees and returnees in south-eastern Chad with life-saving vaccines requires tremendous efforts, but it points the way towards a shipping and transport system that will eventually cover the whole country.


A great example of why “Nurses Who Vaccinate” exists

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 (last updated)

A pregnant nurse was fired from her job after she refused to get a flu shot for fear of miscarrying. This is a great example of why “Nurses Who Vaccinate” ( exists. Nurses can fall victim to misinformation, like anyone else. This particular story of a misled nurse demonstrates the need of healthcare workers having the discussion about vaccines- she would benefit from having an one on one discussion with an infectious disease specialist or an ob/gyn. Considering this mother and her child are within the high risk population for influenza complications, by refusing the flu shot she places herself at higher risk for contracting pneumonia and a possible miscarriage, especially during this particular season where h1n1 cases are increasing. As angry as she is for being fired, the hospital is protecting her by removing her from the hospital, a hot spot for infectious diseases.

Nurses Who Vaccinate & CBS This Morning

Vaccines a key piece of the puzzle

Friday, January 10th, 2014 (last updated)