As U.S. measles outbreaks spread, why does ‘anti-vax’ movement persist? And Look at What is Happening in the Philippines!

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I had to discuss this topic again due to the recent deaths of children who haven’t been vaccinated. It struck a nerve because back, when a friend of mine’s daughter was pregnant, before delivery of our their granddaughter, her future pediatrician, and ObGyn, told her and her husband that all people who came in contact with their future baby should be vaccinated for pertussis, diphtheria etc. Her in-laws said that they were against vaccinations. Their daughter was crushed and she called her father in tears. What to do and what to suggest to their family?

Simple, my suggestion was to tell his daughter to tell the family or have her husband tell his family that if they wanted to visit and see their future niece and granddaughter they needed to be vaccinated or just don’t visit and get a hotel room and then they could see the baby through the glass front door or through the windows. It is about the baby and not about them!

So, when I read the next two articles with the deaths due to measles I was enraged. Parents who are the anti-vaxers, it is about the children and not about their idiot beliefs formed by non-data and from a British physician who had his license taken away.

Dennis Thompson, a HealthDay reporter reported that Measles outbreaks across the United States—including one in Washington state where 50 cases have now been identified—have again shone the spotlight on parents who resist getting kids vaccinated.

These outbreaks are a clear sign of the fraying of “herd immunity,” the overall protection found when a large majority of a population has become immune to a disease, said Dr. Paul Offit. He is director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Measles is the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases, so it’s always the first to come back when you see a drop in herd immunity,” Offit said.

The World Health Organization has taken notice, and recently declared the anti-vaxxer movement a major threat to public health.

Given this, why does anti-vaccine sentiment continue to thrive in certain locales throughout America?

Offit suspects it’s because people have forgotten just how bad diseases like measles, chickenpox and whooping cough can be.

“It’s happening because people aren’t scared of the diseases,” Offit said. “I think vaccines in some ways are victims of their own success.”

But other factors come into play, including a reluctance to give a slew of vaccines to a young child so early in life, now-debunked fears of a link to autism, a feeling that diseases are a natural part of childhood, and a deep-seated distrust of the medical community.

Measles outbreaks were “inevitable,” said Dr. Dawn Nolt, an associate professor of pediatric infectious disease at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore. She lives close to the Washington border, where the biggest current measles outbreaks rage.

“Pockets of communities where there are low vaccine rates are ripe to be ground zero for an outbreak,” Nolt said. “All you need is one person in that community. We knew this was going to happen.”

That’s particularly true of measles, which is incredibly virulent.

Offit explained “you don’t have to have face-to-face contact with someone who has measles. You just have to be within their air space within two hours of their being there.”

According to Nolt, despite its power to spread, there are three questions that typically come up with parents who are hesitant about having their children vaccinated against measles: Is the vaccine safe? Is the vaccine needed? Why shouldn’t I have freedom of choice regarding my child’s vaccinations?

“I think what’s important is to really understand that families have certain concerns and we need to understand those concerns,” Nolt said. “We can’t lump them all together and think that that one conversation serves all of their concerns.”

Parents’ concerns regarding vaccination are often first sparked by the recommended vaccine schedule, Offit said.

“What’s happened is we ask parents of young children in this country to get vaccines to prevent 14 different diseases,” Offit said. “That can mean as many as 26 inoculations during those first few years of life, as many as five shots at one time, to prevent diseases most people don’t see, using biological fluids most people don’t understand.”

So, it’s important that doctors explain to parents that these vaccines are “literally a drop in the ocean” compared to the myriad immune system triggers a child encounters each day, Offit said.

“Very quickly after birth, you have, living on the surface of your body, trillions of bacteria, to which you make an immune response,” Offit explained. “The food you eat isn’t sterile. The dust you inhale isn’t sterile. The water you drink isn’t sterile. You’re constantly being exposed to bacteria to which you make an immune response.”

Doctors also still have to deal with an erroneous 1998 study that linked vaccinations and autism, said Dr. Talia Swartz, an assistant professor of infectious diseases with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

The study was later found to be fraudulent and withdrawn, but “significant press has continued to raise concern about this, even though these concerns have been refuted based on large-scale population studies,” Swartz said.

It’s important to emphasize that these vaccines are heavily tested for safety, said Lori Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

As to whether vaccines are needed, outbreaks provide a powerful argument in favor of that premise, experts said.

However, some parents still greet outbreaks with a shrug.

Nolt said that “some people think vaccines aren’t needed because the disease is more ‘natural’ than the vaccine.”

And arguments based on altruism—vaccinating your child to protect the rest of the community, especially kids who can’t be vaccinated—only go so far, she added.

“I think that resonates with people who have close family or friends who are immunocompromised. For someone who hasn’t had that experience, I think that’s a harder sell,” Nolt said.

Offit is also pessimistic that outbreaks alone will convince hesitant parents to have their kids vaccinated.

“I think children are going to have to die [for attitudes to change],” Offit said. “In regards to measles, you’re probably going to have to get 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year to start to see measles deaths again, but that can happen. Before there was a measles vaccine, which came into the United States in 1963, every year you’d see about 500 children die of measles.”

The “freedom of choice” argument can be the most difficult for doctors to counter, Nolt said. Accumulated distrust of organized medicine, federal regulators and pharmaceutical companies isn’t something a pediatrician can easily counter through conversation.

Now, look at the measles problem in the Philippines!

The Philippines says 136 people have died in a measles outbreak

The Philippine health secretary said Monday that 136 people, mostly children, have died of measles and 8,400 others have fallen ill in an outbreak blamed partly on vaccination fears.

A massive immunization drive that started last week in hard-hit Manila and four provincial regions may contain the outbreak by April, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. President Rodrigo Duterte warned in a TV message Friday of fatal complications and urged children to be immunized.

“No ifs, no buts, no conditions, you just have to bring your children and trust that the vaccines … will save your children,” Duque said by telephone. “That’s the absolute answer to this outbreak.”

Infections spiked by more than 1,000 percent in metropolitan Manila, the densely packed capital of more than 12 million people, in January compared to last year, health officials said.

About half of the 136 who died were children aged 1 to 4 and many of those who perished were not inoculated, the officials said.

Duque said a government information drive was helping restore public trust in the government’s immunization program, which was marred in 2017 by controversy over an anti-dengue vaccine made by French drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur which some officials linked to the deaths of at least three children.

The Philippine government halted the anti-dengue immunization drive after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine may increase the risks of severe dengue infections. More than 830,000 children were injected with the Dengvaxia vaccine under the campaign, which was launched in 2016 under then-President Benigno Aquino III. The campaign continued under Duterte until it was stopped in 2017.

Sanofi officials told Philippine congressional hearings that the Dengvaxia vaccine was safe and effective and would reduce dengue infections if the vaccination drive continued.

“It seems the faith has come back,” Duque said of public trust on the government’s immunization drive, citing the inoculation of about 130,000 of 450,000 people targeted for anti-measles vaccinations in metropolitan Manila in just a week.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which can be spread through sneezing, coughing and close personal contact.

Complications include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, and encephalitis, or the swelling of the brain, which may lead to death, according to the Department of Health.

A Parent-To-Parent Campaign To Get Vaccine Rates Up

Alex Olgin noted that in 2017, Kim Nelson had just moved her family back to her hometown in South Carolina. Boxes were still scattered around the apartment, and while her two young daughters played, Nelson scrolled through a newspaper article on her phone. It said religious exemptions for vaccines had jumped nearly 70 percent in recent years in the Greenville area — the part of the state she had just moved to.

She remembers yelling to her husband in the other room, “David, you have to get in here! I can’t believe this.”

Up until that point, Nelson hadn’t run into mom friends who didn’t vaccinate.

“It was really eye-opening that this was a big problem,” she says.

Nelson’s dad is a doctor; she had her immunizations, and so did her kids. But this news scared her. She knew that infants were vulnerable — they can’t get started on most vaccines until they are 2 months old. And some kids and adults have diseases that make them unable to get vaccines, so they rely on herd immunity.

Nelson was thinking about public health a lot back then and was even considering a career switch from banking to public health. She decided she had to do something.

“I very much believe if you have the ability to advocate, then you have to,” she says. “The onus is on us if we want to change.”

Like a lot of moms, Nelson had spent hours online. She knew how easy it is to fall down internet rabbit holes and into a world of fake studies and scary stories.

“As somebody who just cannot stand wrong things being on the internet,” Nelson says, “if I saw something with vaccines, I was very quick to chime in ‘That’s not true’ or ‘No, that’s not how that works.’ … I usually get banned.”

Nelson started her own group, South Carolina Parents for Vaccines. She began posting scientific articles online. She started responding to private messages from concerned parents with specific questions. She also found that positive reinforcement was important and would roam around the mom groups, sprinkling affirmations.

“If someone posts, ‘My child got their two-months shots today,’ ” Nelson says, she’d quickly post a follow-up comment: “Great job, mom!”

Peer-focused groups around the country doing similar work inspired Nelson. Groups with national reach like Voices for Vaccines and regional groups like Vax Northwest in Washington state take a similar approach, encouraging parents to get educated and share facts about vaccines with other parents.

Nationally, 91 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months old have their vaccination for measles, and rates for other vaccinations range from 82 to 92 percent. But in some communities, the rate is much lower. In Clark County, Wash., where a measles outbreak is up to 63 cases, about 76 percent of kindergartners come to school without all their vaccines.

Public health specialists are raising concerns about the need to improve vaccination rates. But efforts to reach vaccine-hesitant parents often fail. When presented with As reported by facts about vaccine safety, parents often remained entrenched in a decision not to vaccinate.

Pediatricians could play a role — and many do — but they’re not compensated to have lengthy discussions with parents, and some of them find it a frustrating task. That has left an opening for alternative approaches, like Nelson’s.

Nelson thought it would be best to zero in on moms who were still on the fence about vaccines.

“It’s easier to pull a hesitant parent over than it is somebody who is firmly anti-vax,” Nelson says. She explains that parents who oppose vaccination often feel so strongly about it that they won’t engage in a discussion. “They feel validated by that choice — it’s part of a community, it’s part of their identity.”

The most important thing is timing: People may need information about vaccines before they become parents. A first pregnancy — when men and women start transitioning into their parental roles — is often when the issue first crops up. Nelson points to one survey study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed 90 percent of expectant women had made up their minds on vaccines by the time they were six months pregnant.

“They’re not going to a pediatrician [yet],” Nelson says. “Their OB-GYN is probably not speaking to the pediatric vaccine schedule. … So where are they going? They are going online.”

Nelson tries to counter bad information online with facts. But she also understands the value of in-person dialogue. She organized a class at a public library and advertised the event on mom forums. Nelson was nervous that people opposed to vaccines, whom she calls “anti-vaxxers,” might show up and cause a scene. Vaccine opponents had already banned her from some online forums.

“Are they here to rip me a new one? Or are they here to learn about vaccines?” Nelson wondered. “I just decided, if they’re here I’m going to give them good information.”

Amy Morris was pregnant, but she drove an hour and a half to attend the class. Morris wasn’t the typical first-time mom Nelson was trying to reach. She already had three kids. But during this pregnancy, she was getting increasingly nervous about vaccines. She had recently had a miscarriage, and it was right around the time she had gotten a flu shot. Morris had been reading pro- and anti-vaccine posts in the mom forums and was starting to have some doubts. In Nelson’s class, she learned the risks of not vaccinating.

“That spoke to me more than anything,” said Morris.

Now, holding her healthy 8-month-old son, Thorin, on her lap, she says she’s glad she went because she was feeling vulnerable.

“I always knew it was the right thing to do,” Morris said. “I was listening to that fear monster in the back of my head.”

Nelson says that fear is what the anti-vaccine community feeds on. She has learned to ask questions to help parents get at the root of their anxiety.

“I do think they appreciate it when you meet them sympathetically and you don’t just try and blast facts down their throat,” Nelson said.

Nelson is now trying to get local hospitals to integrate that vaccine talk into their birthing classes. She’s studying for a master’s degree in public health at the University of South Carolina and also works with the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy. She’s even considering a run for public office.

House lawmakers to investigate measles outbreak

As reported by our old friend Susannah Luthi, now Congress is wading into the debate over the controversial “philosophical exemption” to immunization, with a key House committee investigation into the recent measles outbreaks that have hit at least 67 people across four states.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel will hold a bipartisan hearing on the outbreak and response efforts next Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) joined oversight panel Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and ranking member Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) in a statement that warned the influx of vaccine-preventable diseases is a serious public health threat.

“Measles is a highly contagious, life-threatening virus that was previously eliminated in the United States thanks to the success of the measles vaccine,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, measles cases are on the rise as a consequence of the virus’s transmission among unvaccinated groups.”

The conversation around vaccinations has been escalating inside the Beltway in recent weeks after an initial batch of more than 40 cases of measles was reported in Oregon and Washington state.

In late January, Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak.

Vaccines had eliminated the virus in the U.S. by 2000, but it can return with overseas travelers and spread among the unvaccinated.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has been vocal on Twitter about the public health threat, urging immunizations and suggested to Axios last week that the federal government may have to step in.

In a Tuesday interview on CNN, he elaborated further, warning that if “certain states continue down the path that they’re on, I think they’re going to force the hand of the federal health agencies.”

I believe that the only reason for not vaccinating children should be allergies to a component of the vaccine. We can’t lose any more children to ignorant parents and or incorrect data regarding complications of the vaccines.

So, even if we gave the Democrats everything that they want, where everything including education, money for not working, and of course free health care for all would that solve this problem? I think not!!

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