Pregnant Women and Vaccination

5 03 2012

Dr. Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco, PKIDs’ advice nurse practitioner, talks about the vaccines pregnant women need.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (8 min/4 mb)





Rebecca’s Son

24 10 2011

(Christopher died from a devastating case of chickenpox. His mom, Rebecca, shared her son’s story until the day she died, and we’d like to share it with you. This is taken from testimony she gave to a U.S. House of Representatives’ committee.)

My name is Rebecca Cole, and I am the mother of five children. I am speaking to you today because I have faced the worst nightmare any parent can possibly face. There is no experience on earth that compares to the horror and devastation of losing a child. It is shattered dreams, crushed wishes, and a future that suddenly vanishes before our eyes. It cannot be wished away, slept away, prayed away, or screamed away. It is darkness, agony, and shock. It leaves our hearts broken, bleeding, and bursting with pain.

My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12.

Christopher was a beautiful little boy who had light blonde hair, and deep, brown eyes. He was full of compassion, joy, and energy. He loved baseball, and every living creature on the earth. He wanted to be a scientist or doctor. I can honestly say that my son was one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his mother.

Christopher was born a very healthy child, but at the age of eight he developed asthma. It was never a problem for him, and it never kept him from doing the things he loved. But, on June 16, 1988, four years after he was diagnosed, he suffered his first and only severe asthma attack. He had to be hospitalized and was treated with all of the normally prescribed drugs, including a corticosteroid. (Anti-inflammatory drugs used in asthma, arthritis, allergies, etc.) He was released four days later with several medications to finish at home, and he was well on his way to recovery.

On June 23, exactly one week after the asthma attack, he broke out with the chickenpox. “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it,” I told him. What I didn’t know was that the corticosteroid had lowered his body’s immune response and he could not fight the disease. The chickenpox began to rampage wildly through his young body. As I drove him to the emergency room, on June 27, my four younger children watched silently in shock and horror as their brother went into seizures, went blind, turned gray, and collapsed due to hemorrhaging in his brain.

That afternoon, Christopher was flown from Camp Lejuene’s Naval Hospital to East Carolina University’s Medical Center, but the chickenpox was uncontrollably sweeping through him like a wildfire, and there was nothing anyone could do.

The next day Christopher suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. As my son lay swollen beyond recognition, and hemorrhaging from every area imaginable, including out into the blisters on his skin, I learned that a vaccine existed, but was not yet licensed by the FDA—a vaccine that could have prevented the unimaginable suffering of my child, and all who knew him.

On June 30, 1988, exactly one week after breaking out with chickenpox, Christopher passed away. The chickenpox virus had destroyed every organ in his body, and it cut pieces from the hearts of everyone who witnessed its devastation.

Christopher wanted to be a scientist or doctor, but because of the unavailability of a vaccine, we will never know what contributions he might have made to society.

Vaccines prevent countless deaths each year. Without them the number of valuable human beings we’d lose would be staggering. There are children and adults who come in contact with the public everyday who would die if they were exposed to the diseases we can prevent.

If everyone around them is vaccinated, they are also protected. We owe it to them and to ourselves as a nation to achieve the highest level of protection possible. We must win the war against infectious disease, and vaccines are our most powerful weapons. We cannot win, however, if we do not use them. Leaving any of our population unprotected is like surrendering to a defeatable foe. We must never surrender.

Rebecca Cole





Annie’s Dad

17 10 2011

(This testimony was given on behalf of PKIDs to a U.S. House of Representatives’ committee a few years ago. It is so compelling—and, unfortunately, still relevant—that we wanted to share it with you now.)

My name is Dr. Keith Van Zandt, and as a practicing family physician, I appreciate the opportunity to address this committee regarding hepatitis B vaccines. I have degrees from Princeton and Wake Forest Universities, and completed residency training in family medicine here in Washington at Andrews AFB.

Today, however, I am here as a dad. I have five children, two of whom my wife Dede and I adopted from Romania. Our youngest, Adrianna, was nearly four years old when we adopted her from the orphanage, and was found to have chronic active hepatitis B when we performed blood work prior to bringing her home.

She had contracted this from her mother, who died when Annie was nine months old, from the effects of her liver disease as well as tuberculosis. We have been very fortunate to have had some excellent medical care for Annie, but her first year with us was an endless procession of liver biopsies, blood draws and over 150 painful interferon injections I gave to my new daughter at home. Interferon is a form of chemotherapy for hepatitis B that has many side effects and only a 25 to 40% success rate.

We know first-hand the pain and family disruption this completely preventable disease can bring.

You have already heard testimony from some of the world’s leading experts on hepatitis B and its vaccine, and I can add little new information to that. As a family doctor, though, I see patients every day whose lives have been significantly improved by the immunizations we now have available. My forebears in family medicine struggled in the pre-vaccination era with the ravages of horrible diseases that are now of only historical interest.

Preventive immunizations have so changed our world that I am afraid that we no longer remember how horrible some of these diseases were. My family and I have made multiple trips to Romania to work in the orphanages, and unfortunately I have seen the effects of many of these diseases there.

I am certainly aware of the potential for adverse reactions to our current vaccines, but we must maintain the perspective that these reactions are extremely rare. My partners and I in Winston-Salem care for over 40,000 patients, and I can honestly say that in over 20 years of practice we have never seen a serious adverse reaction to any vaccine. I believe that the vast majority of family physicians around the country can say the same. Certainly, I do not wish to minimize the suffering and losses of families who have experienced these problems, but we must remember that immunizations remain the most powerful and cost-effective means of preventing disease in the modern era.

Personally, it still sickens me to know that the disease my daughter has was completely preventable if hepatitis B vaccines had been available to Annie and her mother.

Whereas 90% of adults who contract hepatitis B get better, 90% of children under the age of one go on to have chronic disease, and 15 to 20% of them die prematurely of cirrhosis or liver cancer.

I know first-hand the gut-wrenching feeling of being told your child has a chronic disease that could shorter their life. I know first-hand the worry parents feel when their hepatitis B child falls on the playground, and you don’t know if her bleeding knee or bloody nose will infect her playmates or teachers. I know first-hand the concern for my other children’s health, with a 1 in 20 chance of household spread of hepatitis, and the thankfulness I feel that they have had the availability of successful vaccines. I know first-hand the pain a parent feels for their child as they undergo painful shots and procedures for their chronic disease with no guarantee of cure.

I am not the world’s leading expert on hepatitis B or the hep B vaccine, but I am an expert on delivering the best medical care I can to my patients in Winston-Salem, NC. I am also not the world’s leading expert on parenting children with chronic diseases, but I am the world’s best expert on parenting my five children.

I know professionally that immunizations in general have hugely improved the lives of those patients who have entrusted their medical care to me. I know personally that had the hepatitis B vaccine been available to my daughter, her life and mine would have been drastically different. I am also thankful that my other children have been spared Annie’s suffering by being successfully vaccinated.

Anecdotes of vaccine reactions are very moving, but they are no substitute for good science. Please allow me to continue to provide the best medical care I can with the best system of vaccinations in the world, and allow me to keep my own family safe.

Thank you very much for your time.

Keith Van Zandt, M.D.





Flu’s Gonna Lose

13 10 2011

Medical historians believe that influenza became a human disease about 6,000 years ago. Despite the enormous scientific, medical and technological sophistication we enjoy today, influenza, combined with pneumonia, is a leading cause of death in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:

Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-related deaths in the United States range from a low of 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people. Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from the flu, including an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 years of age.

The 2009-2010 flu season is an example of how unpredictable flu can be. That season followed the emergence of a new H1N1 influenza virus in the spring of 2009. This virus caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than 40 years. Thousands of healthy children and adults had to visit the doctor or were hospitalized from flu complications.

As individuals, we want to protect ourselves against a largely preventable disease. As a community, we must get vaccinated to protect our youngest and oldest citizens—those most at risk not only for infection, but for the complications that can arise from infection.

If you’re wanting some materials or ideas for this flu season, we’ve developed a program that may be used by anyone wishing to promote flu vaccination.

PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign urges family and community members to spread the health by refusing the opportunity to experience the vagaries of this deadly disease and instead, offer up an arm to immunization, wash our hands, cover our coughs and sneezes, and stay home to stop the spread of disease.

There are many free materials, both branded and unbranded, available for download from our website, including:

If you have any educational materials to share with others, will you provide URLs in the comments? Sharing ideas and materials is a great way to make our budgets stretch.

Adapted from PKIDs’ website





World Rabies Day – 28 September

26 09 2011

Anyone who’s read Old Yeller knows (spoiler alert!) what happens to the title dog in the book. In this day of vaccinations against rabies, though, many people don’t give rabies more than the thought required to take their pets to the vet.

Yet rabies is still around, present in many mammals, including raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes, and contact with any infected animal can mean infection for you or an unvaccinated furry pet.

In fact, about 55,000 people still die every year from rabies, which translates into a death every 10 minutes.

To make people more aware of the continued threat and precautions to take, national and international health organizations have designated September 28, 2011, as World Rabies Day.

Rabies is a viral disease. The virus attacks the central nervous system—the brain and spinal cord—and eventually is fatal (although there are extremely rare cases of survival). Symptoms, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are non-specific in the beginning—a fever, a headache, a general feeling of being unwell. But eventually, they progress to neurological symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, paralysis, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (as the disease is called in Old Yeller). Once these symptoms are present, death is only days away.

Usually, rabies is transmitted through a bite, transferred via the saliva of the infected animal, although rarely it transfers through other routes, such as via the air or transplantation of infected organs. The virus itself triggers no symptoms for up to 12 weeks even as it multiplies and invades the brain and spinal cord. When symptoms finally show up, an infected organism dies within about seven days.

Vaccines against rabies are available for animals, but worldwide, dogs remain the most common source of rabies infection in people, and children are at greatest risk. Vaccination could reduce or eliminate this risk, and a goal of the World Rabies Day campaign is to ensure more widespread vaccination of dogs. Since the campaign began in 2007, 4.6 million dogs have been vaccinated thanks to awareness events. This year’s goal is to grow that number even more.

Vaccinations also exist for people, especially post-exposure vaccinations. They once had a dire reputation as painful shots administered in the stomach, but now they’re shots in the arm and no more painful than other vaccinations. These shots include a shot given the day of exposure followed by more shots in an arm muscle on days 3, 7, and 14, according to the CDC. However, there is a short window of time for these vaccines to be effective; they must be administered preferably within a day of exposure. For people who have already had rabies vaccinations, a briefer round of further shots is required.

What should you do if you think you’ve come into contact with a rabies-infected animal? The CDC has a few guidelines:

  • Consider the situation urgent but not an emergency. Get medical help as soon as you can.
  • Wash a wound immediately with soap and water, which decreases the chance of infection.
  • Get immediate medical attention for acute trauma from a wound before worrying about rabies infection.
  • Once immediate considerations are addressed, your doctor and the relevant health department will determine if you need vaccination.

Remember, above all, keep your pets vaccinated against rabies, and stay away from wild animals, especially those known to carry the virus. For more information, see the World Rabies Day website.

By Emily Willingham

Image courtesy of secad.ie





Mary Margaret’s Legacy

22 09 2011

My dad’s sister, Mary Margaret, died at age nine from laryngeal diphtheria.

One of the things Dad and I talked about when I became an immunization coalition coordinator was whether he would mind if I told his sister’s story in my work. He felt if her tragic story would help prevent anyone from losing a child to a vaccine-preventable disease, then it would be a wonderful tribute to her and it’d give her short life even more purpose.

Mary Margaret died a week before Christmas, 1927, after contracting diphtheria from schoolmates. This was three years before the diphtheria vaccine was available in the area, according to my grandmother’s recollection that came down to me through my dad.

She had home care by family, and a visit from a doc who visited the poor families, so they worried that maybe she could have had a more timely diagnosis and better care.

After her death, the family was put out of the house by the local board of health, and the house was roped off with a “do not cross” type of line and sulphur candles were burned in the house to rid it of any leftover contagion. They were treated like lepers.

Our family is and was Catholic.  Mary Margaret was allowed no funeral service (no stopping by the church) on the way to the cemetery located nine miles outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. No last benediction or funeral rites from the church were given to her because of the contagious aspect of the disease. The grave wasn’t even marked until 1960, when my dad and his brother visited the cemetery to make arrangements for their mother’s burial. They were horrified to find it unmarked and ordered not one but two stones.

There was no money in 1927 for the family to mark it—the family, like most at the time, was living on the edge of poverty.

The summer after Mary Margaret died, my dad and uncle (ages four and five) were put on the train to Kansas City with notes pinned to their collars to let them off at Union Station there, as their aunt would pick them up and keep them for the summer—a rough summer for their parents who needed a break.

My grandparents coped as best they could, but my dad said he and his brother never saw the same sparkle in their parents’ eyes, and they couldn’t bring it back by themselves no matter how hard they tried.

Grandpa continued to work long hours as a baker, but coped by drinking. Grandma just carried on, never sharing her grief with the boys and never complaining.

My mother once talked to my grandfather (her father-in-law) about his daughter’s death, and it was the only time he said anything to her about it.

“For Christmas that year, my daughter had asked for a music box; instead, I had to buy a wooden box to bury her in,” he said, and then cried.

I have told Mary Margaret’s story to people occasionally since I have been the TAIC coalition Coordinator, and I have to tell you, even though my own grown sons are familiar with it, one of my daughters-in-law (and her mother) have bought into the false information about immunizations collected from the Internet and through their homeschooling network.

No matter what I can respectfully, carefully, or diplomatically say or try to teach, their attitudes of distrust about immunizations cannot be changed. So, their children, my grandchildren, remain unimmunized, much to my anguish.

On a cheery note, I can see the photo of Mary Margaret, the aunt I never knew, with that wonderfully whimsical orange clown nose on her face in celebration of Orange Nose Day.

And Grandma? She probably would have wanted to see something hopeful and meaningful come from the sharing of her daughter’s story. Maybe by relating our family’s story, today’s parents will realize just how serious vaccine-preventable diseases are, and make good, timely decisions about having their children properly immunized. Grandma would be AMAZED to know that several cancers can now be prevented with vaccines!

As to the diphtheria vaccine and my dad and uncle? When it was available in 1930 at the Tulsa Board of Health, Dad said his mother couldn’t get them there FAST ENOUGH to get both boys immunized. She wasn’t going to lose any more of her children to a preventable disease.

By Kathy Sebert, RN, BA/Coordinator, Tulsa Area Immunization Coalition & Tulsa Health Department employee





ECBT – Two Decades

8 09 2011

Every Child By Two (ECBT) celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers started ECBT with two goals: “. . . [to] raise awareness of the critical need for timely immunizations and to foster a systematic way to immunize all of America’s children by age two.”

ECBT offers a lot of direction to various segments of the population. For parents, they have sections on vaccine safety, tips on paying for vaccines, and descriptions of vaccines and the diseases they prevent.

Immunization advocates can find a huge amount of information on ECBT’s website, including surveys, reports, links, and a long list of national and regional resources.

Immunization registries are at the heart of ECBT’s work and they feature on their website how-tos, detailed explanations of registry benefits, and other tools helpful to those investigating such start-ups.

Healthcare professionals aren’t forgotten! They can find many links to patient educational materials and to strategies to improve vaccination rates.

Bringing Immunity To Every Community is an eLearning course developed by ECBT in partnership with the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care and the American Nurses Association and is worth checking out.

In the past few years, ECBT has created a second website, Vaccinate Your Baby, and a blog called Shot of Prevention. Vaccinate Your Baby is based on an awareness campaign of the safety of vaccines and the need to keep children’s immunization rates high. Actress Amanda Peet has been an ardent spokeswoman for ECBT and immunization and has kept the momentum going on this campaign.

The blog, Shot of Prevention, is led by Christine Vara, and has been both a leader in the arena of immunization blogs and a lightning rod for those with strong opinions. But they do love it when folks take time to comment on posts, so stop by when you have a minute to read these thoughtful opinion pieces.

It’s true that we’re fans of the people at ECBT, but for good cause. Kids would not be so well-protected today if, 20 years ago, two strong women hadn’t taken it upon themselves to lead the nation in immunizing our young.

Amy Pisani, Rich Greenaway and Jennifer Zavolinsky get up and go to work each day at ECBT, and because they do, they make the jobs of other immunization advocates so much easier. Thanks to all of you.

By Trish Parnell