Vaccine Education Center

28 04 2011

Dr. Paul Offit, Director, VEC

The science of vaccines can be . . . daunting. The lists of ingredients and potential side effects make us want to second guess ourselves and our children’s providers. We need to be sure we’re making safe choices.

And the complicated schedules! They’re enough to make sane people pound their heads.

The folks at the Vaccine Education Center (VEC) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have a gift for presenting the complexities of vaccines and attending issues in a way that’s easy to understand yet comprehensive in scope.

The VEC website has a special section for parents and adults of all ages.  While there, you can sign up for the Parents PACK newsletter to get monthly immunization updates.  In the March issue, there’s a timely post on measles and the dangers of rubella parties.

You’ll also find age-specific information on vaccines and the diseases they prevent. There are FAQs, but if you can’t find your question, you can send it in via a form provided on the site.

The VEC has created a library of educational materials on specific vaccines and commonly asked questions. These resources range from information sheets to more consumer-friendly bookmarks and brochures.

They also maintain essential tools, including vaccine schedules, facts about vaccine preventable diseases, and the latest in vaccine science.

To keep information fresh, the VEC pens a monthly “Ask the VEC” on a myriad of topics.

Starting in 2011, the VEC will present three or four webinars a year addressing evolving issues, recent ACIP meetings, new science and media reports.

There are layers and layers of information available on the website, for those of us who feel more is better.  And what parent doesn’t?

The VEC staff constantly works at sifting vaccine fact from fiction and explaining the difference in ways we can all understand.  If you have questions, they’re worth checking out.

Is Social Media Worth It?

28 02 2011

Nonprofits are noodling around with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter . While trying it out, we’re thinking about next steps and determining if incorporating social communications tools into our everyday work is a productive route to take.

 Given the limited resources faced by most nonprofits (especially these days!), many of us are hesitant to make the leap. How can we determine whether the return on investment (ROI) for social media will ultimately pay off?

The funders and the board members and the directors all want proof of ROI before committing. If you’re working in a nonprofit and believe in the need to get into social media, here are a few calculations you can make to determine the ROI for your social media efforts. Some of the biggies are:

  • Staff time – most organizations don’t have the budget for a full-time social media manager, so determining how much time is required for Facebook and Twitter curating  is a good beginning.
  • Tools – even though social media is mostly free, the tools supporting it aren’t always. Make sure your computers and systems allow access to social media tools like Facebook.
  • Installation, set-up and monitoring – someone has to have the technical expertise to set up the various accounts and monitor them for glitches.

According to Beth Kanter, a key player in nonprofit and social media education, social media ROI is worth calculating and there are many viable considerations to make when putting together your program. 

Is social media for nonprofits ultimately worth it? We think it is for PKIDs, but the answer for your organization may be “it depends.”

To learn more about social media for your nonprofit or health department, don’t forget to register for PKIDs’ Communications Made Easy program  and also visit the archive, which is replete with many recorded webinars.

Healthcare Reform & Me

20 01 2011

No matter what side of the aisle we’re on, we all agree that our healthcare system needs improvement.  The new Affordable Care Act makes some sweeping changes to that system and most of us have questions about how the Act affects us, and how to separate truth from fiction.

The White House has a section on its website that’s helpful for those of us who don’t really know what’s involved in this legislation. There are several informative and simply written pages to be found, if you poke around.

The States page helps bring the info home.  By clicking on a state, we can hear stories and information about the specific effects of the new Act and how it will directly impact that state and its citizens.

The site is an easy way to gather fast facts about some of the highlights of the new Act and answers some of the more common questions many of us have. For example, will Medicare benefits be reduced? No.  In fact, benefits will be added, including “free prevention coverage, annual wellness visits and a phase-out of the Medicare donut hole.”

Another significant change is being able to keep children up to age 26 on a parent’s health insurance plan.

Information about business incentives, drug rebates, and the specific dates when various provisions take effect can also be found on the White House site.

And for a look at the Act itself – who doesn’t have occasional insomnia? – take a look here.

Vitamin D – Gotta Have It!

20 11 2009

High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Kids with low levels of vitamin D may be at risk for some or all of these health problems. If not now, then as they get into their 20s and 30s. In case you were thinking this doesn’t apply to your children, you might want to reconsider: 70% of kids in the U.S. do not get enough vitamin D.

Why is this? Scientists tell us that spending 10 or 15 minutes in the sun without using sunscreen lets the body make the amount needed.  And vitamin D, which helps bones absorb calcium that makes them stronger, can also be found in milk and in multivitamins.

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about the amount of sun, supplements, and milk your child should receive each day to achieve and maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.

Ask your provider about your vitamin D levels and what you can do to improve them.  Parents sometimes forget that they need to be taken care of, too.

Check out AAP’s article on vitamin D deficiency for more info.


Five-Second Rule!

16 11 2009

Nurse Mary Beth confirms that yes, we can scarf down what we dropped on the floor (most of the time).

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (2mb, 4min)


Teaching 911 Basics

30 10 2009

Teaching our kids to call 911 can be as important to their health and the health of others as teaching them the importance of good nutrition and how to stop-drop-and-roll. And just like stop-drop-and-roll, we must teach them not just the ‘when’, but the ‘how’ of it, until it becomes second nature.

Consider teaching a 911 mini-class to your kids at least once a day for three days, then quizzing every other day, then quizzing about once a week.  By that time, the routine should be stuck in their heads.

Here’s some suggested text for your lesson plan:

If there is an emergency, dial 9-1-1 from a telephone. An emergency is when a person is badly hurt or in danger ‘right now.’ An emergency is if you see a crime happening, like a person hurting another person or someone breaking into someone’s house, or a fire somewhere a fire shouldn’t be. An emergency is if someone is suddenly very sick, having a hard time speaking or breathing.

An emergency isn’t something like forgetting your homework or arguing with a brother or sister.

Go to a safe place to call. If there’s a fire, leave the building first. Get away from the person hurting you or someone else, then call 911.

It’s normal to feel afraid or nervous about it, grownups often feel the same way. Call anyway. The people answering the phone will understand.

It’s OK to make a mistake. If you call 911, stay on the line and tell them why you called. It’s OK to tell them you think it might not be an emergency after all. If you start the call, but hang up before someone has a chance to answer, the 911 operators might think you are still in danger.


Help them prepare. Teach them their address and phone number and explain what to expect when the operator picks up the phone, and that they should stay on the phone until the operator tells them it’s time to hang up.

Role-play the scenario with them so that the first time they call 911 won’t necessarily feel like the first time. The 911 dispatcher will ask these questions:

  • What is the emergency?
  • What happened?
  • Where are you?
  • Who needs help?
  • Are you safe where you are?

When you role-play, give your children a turn both as the caller and the 911 operator. Practicing these skills with your children will help them be more confident, feel safer and be safer.


To Veg Or Not To Veg

22 09 2009

If my teenager told me, her pork-lovin’ mama, that she was a vegan, I’d slam my sausage down and tell her to glue her fanny to a chair until I got a dictionary.

Turns out vegans don’t consume animal food – not even dairy products.  They don’t even wear leather shoes.

OK, first thing any involved parent will think about is: How is this going to affect my life?  Will I have to cook two meals, one vegan and one for regular people?  Just how much of a pain is this going to be and when is she moving out?

Oh, and how healthy is this lifestyle choice anyway?  (Yes, I eventually got there.)

If your teen is exploring vegetarianism or even veganism, here’s some animal-free food for thought.

The American Dietetic Association says that vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for people of any age, even for children. These diets are generally low in saturated fats, lower in cholesterol, and higher in fiber. These factors put vegetarians and vegans at much lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes than most meat lovers.

Vegetarians usually omit meat, poultry, and seafood from their diets, while vegans eliminate all animal products, including eggs and dairy, although there are vegetarians who eat fish and poultry and vegans who love their egg whites.  Apparently there’s room for personal choice.

Teens, whether meat-eating or not, are infamous for poor eating habits. Vegetarian and vegan teens, like all teens, need parental support in making healthy food choices. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, like any diet, is variety. Parents should be aware of the vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet, particularly if variety is sparse.

Vitamin B12 is important in the formation of red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nervous system, and it’s essential for proper growth. A B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nervous system damage. Naturally, this vitamin is only found in meat, eggs, and dairy products, so look for fortified soymilk, cereals, or nutritional yeast if your child is vegan. Many meat-substitute products also contain B12.

Calcium is an essential mineral for many body functions. Blood clotting, muscle function, and the nervous system require calcium. When the body lacks calcium for these functions, it draws on calcium stored in the bones, leading to decreased bone density and possible fractures. Besides dairy sources, calcium is found in soymilk, calcium-fortified juice, soybeans, tofu, broccoli, and many other vegetables.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in regulating many organ systems and endocrine functions, as well as maintaining bone structure. Fish, eggs, and milk are great sources of vitamin D. As little as fifteen minutes of sun a day on the skin can provide some vitamin D. Fortified soymilk, juices, and cereals provide vitamin D, but a supplement for vegans is probably a good idea, especially in the winter months.

Iron is essential for oxygen transport in the body, as well as for the production and survival of all cells in the body. Green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans, fortified cereals, and meat-substitutes contain iron. The problem is that the body does not absorb iron from these sources as readily as it does from animal sources. Menstruating females and other teens may benefit from an iron supplement.

Zinc has numerous functions in the body and plays a role in nervous system function and reproductive organ growth. Red meats contain a lot of zinc, but it’s also found in wheat, beans and many seeds. Too much zinc can be harmful, so use care when considering a zinc supplement.

Proteins are made of amino acids that are essential for almost every body function. Surprisingly, nearly all vegetarians get enough protein. A vegetarian or vegan teen should eat a balance of legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grains every day. Eggs and dairy provide plenty of protein, if that’s part of their food plan.

If your teen announces he’s become a vegan, then yes, it’s going to mean more work for you.  But, with a little help from you, his doting parent, he’ll be eating foods that are good for him and, bonus, you don’t have to fork out the bucks for leather anything anymore!


Hepatitis A. Are you (and yours) protected?

21 09 2009

Some parents feel the hepatitis A vaccine is one their child can skip.  Children infected with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) often have symptoms so mild they aren’t even noticeable.  Do they really need the shot?

We think so, and here’s why.

Let’s say Macey is a second-grader who’s not immunized against HAV.  Consequently, she gets infected from tainted salad at a local restaurant.

Having no symptoms, Macey goes to school and exposes classmates to HAV through lack of proper handwashing in the restroom.  (Those who do experience symptoms may get a fever, nausea, diarrhea, and severe stomach pains for up to a month.)

If anyone in her life has chronic hepatitis B or C, and is not immunized against HAV, they’re at risk of fatal consequences.  People with compromised immune systems and other liver diseases are also at risk.

If Macey doesn’t get the hepatitis A vaccine and does not get the disease as a child, she’s at risk of contracting the disease later.  Adults infected with HAV generally experience more severe symptoms.  One in five people infected with hepatitis A require hospitalization, and some are sick for up to six months.

In 2003, an outbreak at a restaurant in Pennsylvania sickened 660 people and killed four. The disease may be mild, but it’s no party.

Parents should check with their providers to see if vaccination is right for their family.


Antibacterial soap – yes or no?

10 09 2009

You gotta love handwashing.  Water, soap, rub, and rinse.  Too easy and gets rid of lots of germs.

The question seems to be: do we need to use antibacterial soap?

Natural soap contains fatty acids that allow oil and water to come together more easily, which in turn allows the water we’re using to carry away the germ-infested oil and grease on our hands.

In the 1990s, antibacterial soaps came on the market for home use.  It seems like using them would be a no-brainer, but experts can’t agree on this.

One concern is whether long-term and widespread use of antimicrobials is contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

Environmental experts are voicing concern about the long-term effects of triclosan and other chemicals used in these antibacterial products, which are building up in our waste water system, and ultimately being dumped into the environment where they disturb the natural ecosystem by killing desirable and important microbes.

In addition to questions about the environmental impact, the actual effectiveness of these ingredients in household soaps is now in doubt.  Most experts agree that antibacterial soaps are unnecessary in a healthy home setting, and may actually do more harm than good.

A 2004 report in Annals of Internal Medicine found that in a 48-week randomized double-blind study, there was no statistical difference in illness symptoms between the families that used exclusively antibacterial products, and the families that used exclusively non-antibacterial cleaning products.


The Plague

3 08 2009

The plague. Sounds so 14th century, doesn’t it?

Two townsfolk in a rural area of China recently died of pneumonic plague, bringing it right into the 21st century.  Their small town is now sealed off from the world and it’s unknown for how long the quarantine will last.

There are three forms of plague:

  • Bubonic is the most common form and it causes swellings or tumors on the affected person’s neck, armpits or groin.  Infected fleas hopping a ride on rats and then humans are the common source of infection for this disease.
  • Pneumonic is a respiratory infection and can be spread just by breathing in the exhaled air of an infected person.  This is a very infectious and deadly form of plague.
  • Septicemic attacks the blood system but doesn’t spread from person to person.

The WHO isn’t too worried about the small outbreak and this makes sense.  For most people, this is not a potential health risk when stepping out the door each morning, and China’s quick actions will likely stop the spread of infection.

These days, diseases old and new seem to crop up with depressing regularity.  There are several things we can do to protect ourselves, including:

  • keeping our hands clean throughout the day with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • covering our coughs and sneezes
  • talking to our healthcare provider to see what immunizations are right for our family members
  • using standard precautions in daily living