Health and Science News for Parents
Dec
27

Did someone get a gun for Christmas? Take these steps for safety

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is a guest post from Jeffrey Nelson, who designed the excellent infographic below with a lot of sobering evidence-based information. The issue of firearm safety and children is a big one for me, and I say that as someone who grew up in a house with guns, who shot my first gun well before I was 10 years old, and who has guns in my household currently. Those who follow this blog and follow me on social media know how important I feel this issue is — it’s up there with vaccines, breastfeeding, and infant sleep — but people forget in the midst of all the arguing about guns that there are real steps people can take to reduce risks of accidents and tragedies.

By Jeffrey Nelson of nationalbiometric.org

By Jeffrey Nelson of nationalbiometric.org

Every year, more than 100 children die from gun accidents, and many of those are self-inflicted or inflicted by another child. In the big scheme of all accidents, as this author notes, those numbers are not big — but they are all preventable deaths. Any preventable death is worth preventing. What struck me in this guest post is the same thing that struck the author: a mother who said her 3-year-old knows better. Emily Willingham and I dug into the research on this for our book The Informed Parent — there’s a whole section on firearms and children — and there is more than enough evidence to clearly state that 3-year-olds, and even 10-year-olds, DO NOT KNOW BETTER. Not only epidemiological/observational studies but also well-designed experiments have made it extremely clear that children are not developmentally capable of understanding the danger of guns. Our references are on our website, and you can check out the research yourself.

In the meantime, guns are a popular gift for Christmas and other gift-giving events. If you or someone who you know received or gave one, you have a responsibility to make sure you and they are aware of the steps that should be taken to reduce the risk of accidental discharge, injury, and death. The most important steps, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are for those who own firearms to keep them stored unloaded in a locked safe or cabinet that is inaccessible to minors with the ammunition stored in a different locked, inaccessible location.

Disclosure: The infographic is sponsored by an online magazine and news site whose goal is to spread the word about biometric technology. Biometric technology is one proposed way to improve the safety of firearms and reduce gun injuries and deaths. This post does not constitute an endorsement of the publication or its website. I have chosen to share the infographic and guest post because the information is evidence-based and accurate and because it’s an issue I feel is important.

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5 Simple Steps To Keep Kids Safer Around Guns

The topic of guns in America is a tough one. Both sides are dug in; they both believe that someone is attacking them if any questions are being asked. I have known that fact for a long time and I, like everyone else, have seen this topic kicked around like the political football that it is over the last decade or two.

What I hadn’t seen, however, was a robust discussion on simple things we can do. There are several simple things that both sides agree on that will help make children who live in homes with firearms a little bit safer. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul
3

Tough Topics: What does research really tell us about guns?

written by Tara Haelle

In the wake of the Orlando massacre at Pulse — just the most recent mass shooting and one of many more likely to come — the conversation about gun control has flared up again. It got a bit more traction in Congress with Sen. Chris Murphy’s Senate filibuster and the sit-in in the House led by John Lewis (a personal hero who can do no wrong in my eyes). The polarization around this issue, discouragingly continues unabated, and it may evoke more cognitive dissonance than any other issue I can think of (yes, even more than vaccines).

Our nation has a problem with gun violence. There is research that can guide us in addressing it.

Our nation has a problem with gun violence. There is research that can guide us in addressing it.

Not many folks know that I follow the research on firearm injuries and gun control almost as closely as that on vaccines, breastfeeding, and infant sleep. I don’t write about it as much because there is a very real risk of threat to myself and my family for those who write about the facts and what the evidence shows us about gun ownership, gun violence, firearm-related policies, and everything related to the issue of firearms in general.

Congress has made it difficult over the past decade and a half to conduct high-quality research on gun violence, but much of it still exists thanks to a handful dedicated injury prevention and public health researchers across the U.S. In the the one-hour podcast below, I discuss with MyNDTalk what much of this research has found.

May
16

My TEDx Oslo Transcript: Why Do Parents Fear Vaccines?

written by Tara Haelle

This is the transcript of my TEDx Oslo talk, for those wanting to read instead of watch or who are unable to watch. Anyone is welcome to translate this talk into other languages as long as it appears with my name and the fact that it is a TEDx Oslo talk. (Ex: A TEDx Oslo talk by Tara Haelle.) I have also included three of the graphics I used in the talk, designed according to my requests by the graphic artist Hannah Henry, and which I paid for. Please check out her website here if you are interested in hiring her. If you include the graphics with your translation, you must also include credit to Hannah Henry and link to her website. You can find the Slideshare of the talk here.

“It was just over a half century ago that every summer gripped parents across the world, especially the Western world, with fear. In its heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, polio killed or paralyzed over half a million people across the world. Outbreaks led to public closures. People avoided friends and neighbors out of sheer terror that they would be struck by the disease or their children would. The unpredictable and invisible threat of polio made familiar places like playgrounds and swimming pools suddenly terrifying.

So the arrival of the polio vaccine was like a liberation. The enemy, previously lurking behind every corner, had been vanquished. It was the tremendous relief that earlier generations felt when they no longer lost children to tetanus or diphtheria or yellow fever.

More vaccines have since followed: against rubella, hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases, and more … even the Holy Grail – a vaccine that prevents cancer by preventing the human papillomavirus vaccine.

We completely eradicated smallpox, a horrifying disease that left those who didn’t die scarred for life. Every one of you survived this. Most of you because you never had it… because of this.

And yet we now find ourselves in a century when we can beat back more than two dozen diseases that once killed millions … and the biggest threat to public health, or one of them, is not the diseases themselves but vaccine hesitancy — the fear that holds parents back from vaccinating their children. What happened? How did we get to this point?

Well, when my first son was born, I turned down a vaccine. I didn’t think was necessary. I didn’t understand it. I wasn’t dumb or stupid — I was actually in grad school — but I was scared, just like hundreds of other parents I’ve spoken to in the six years I’ve been reporting on this issue.

Now to be clear: I am talking about vaccine hesitancy and refusal, but I’m not talking about that very tiny percentage of people who spout conspiracy theories or show up at government meetings spreading misinformation about vaccines.

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Graphic by Hannah Henry

I’m talking about the fence sitters, and those parents are utterly terrified of doing the wrong thing, of harming their child when all they want to do is protect them.

Consider this quote: “In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

That quote comes from a kind of unexpected source, a Founding Father of the United States, an inventor and a writer — Benjamin Franklin.

If such an intelligent, worldly man as Benjamin Franklin all those years ago could fear vaccinating his own son, vaccine hesitancy isn’t new. And those it afflicts are not “ignorant” or “stupid.” In fact, vaccine refusal rates frequently correlate with higher education.

So something else is at work here. Read the rest of this entry »

May
9

Why Do Parents Fear Vaccines? I Explain in My TEDx Oslo Talk

written by Tara Haelle

The past month has been such a whirlwind that I spent more days in April out of town than in town — two conferences, one international TEDx talk, and one luncheon speaking event. It has finally wound down, and now I’m trying to catch up. One of the big events that took up much of my time was my TEDx Oslo talk on April 21.

A quick selfie from the stage of the National Theater in Oslo as the TEDx audience fills up the theater.

A quick selfie from the stage of the National Theater in Oslo as the TEDx audience fills up the theater.

The months leading up required a great deal of preparation, following by my family’s voyage to Scandinavia for the talk. We spent just over a week there on a mini-quasi family vacation — tips on how well that worked with a 2-year-old and 5-year-old to come later! — first visiting a friend in Sweden and then staying in Oslo for the rest of the time.

It was nerve-wracking and exciting to give a TEDx talk. It needed to be memorized, so I spent many of the hours on trains and planes running through my index cards and my speech from memory. The TEDx Oslo team, however, was so incredibly welcoming and friendly that they put all of us at ease immediately when we arrived for our dress rehearsal on April 20. The rehearsal and the event were held at the National Theater in Oslo, the same theater where one of Ibsen’s plays opened in the first three opening nights over a century ago. As a huge fan of Ibsen (he’s second only to Shakespeare for me, and I was an English major) and a former actress, it was eerie and remarkable and awesome and awe-inspiring and humbling all at once to perform in that space.

As might be expected, I did not deliver the talk I memorized verbatim, but most of the flubs were completely missed by the audience — only I knew. The single time I forgot where I was and glanced at a couple notes on my hand, however, was naturally a moment caught on camera and included in the video. Oh well — we’re all human! My TEDx talk focused on why parents fear vaccines and what might be necessary to begin to build their trust. The complete talk is below.

Mar
18

Measles, Schools and Selective Exemptions: Competing Approaches to Preventing Outbreaks

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is a guest post by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law. She discusses two editorials published in Pediatrics today that address concerns about school exemption policies and preventing vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or me, Tara Haelle. I have invited Dr. Reiss to offer her commentary because this is her area of expertise, and she does an effective job of explaining and exploring the concepts discussed in the editorials. This article will also be co-posted at Skeptical Raptor later today.

The best way to increase immunization rates and protect a community from outbreak is anything but settled. Serious, thoughtful, pro-vaccine policy scholars and policy makers disagree on whether it’s better to remove all non-medical exemptions, tighten exemptions, and so forth. A new proposal takes the discussion in a different direction.

smiling infant wearing a yellow shirt with a kiss graphic that says "You can kiss me. I'm vaccinated."

Public health officials agree on the need to ensure as many children as possible are vaccinated. But the question of how to get there is a different story.

In a recent article in Pediatrics, Childhood Vaccine Exemption Policy: The Case for a Less Restrictive Alternative, Douglas J. Opel et al. made a case for limiting non-medical exemptions for the measles vaccines only. The authors explained that “Our goal is simple: to see as many children immunized as possible.” However, they don’t think removal of nonmedical exemptions is the way to get there. While acknowledging alternatives – making non-medical exemptions harder to get, or enforcing current laws better – their contribution is to offer a new alternative: allowing non-medical exemptions to all vaccines except measles vaccines, and removing non-medical exemptions for those.

This post examines their arguments. For each argument it explains the authors’ claims, the response editorial’s rebuttal, and adds some thoughts. In short, while the proposal is interesting and enriches the debate, its drawbacks, in my view, far outweigh its benefits.

Why do Opel et al think removing non-medical exemptions from measles vaccines only is a good idea, superior to removing all non-medical exemptions?

Measles is an unusual case

The authors argue that there is scientific justification to treat measles differently than other diseases because measles is unusually contagious, requiring high rates of herd immunity. In addition, measles is severe enough and outbreaks common enough that measles is a significant threat to the public health. The measles vaccines is also both safe and effective at preventing outbreaks. Other vaccines are also generally safe, but for example, the pertussis component of DTaP isn’t as effective at preventing outbreaks.

In their response, Childhood Vaccine Exemptions: A Broader Perspective is Required, Byington et al disagree. They point out that diseases with low RO – less infectious than measles – can cause extensive harm and be harmful, even deadly. Such diseases did, in fact, causes thousands of deaths (and led to hundreds of thousands of cases). While the required rates to prevent measles are high, herd immunity thresholds for other diseases are hardly low, ranging in the area of about 85-94%. Since school immunization requirements are extremely effective at preventing disease, the authors imply we should use them to the extent possible – without non-medical exemptions – to prevent these other dangerous diseases. The authors don’t say it in those words, but I think it’s a fair reading of their argument, and I agree with them.

On the other hand, there is a potential argument that the proposal does not immediately mean return of preventable diseases. Most people vaccinate even in states that have easy to get exemptions, though the rate of exemption is higher in those states than in those with hard to get exemptions. The need to get at least one vaccine would remove exemptions of convenience, keeping rates high.

I think this argument is a little tricky, since the rates of people who vaccinate selectively or on a delayed schedule are higher than of those who are completely non-vaccinated. Limiting removal of non-medical exemptions to measles vaccines would not necessarily assure rates of other vaccines remain high. The concern that this will lead to a drop in immunization rates for other diseases – a concern the authors themselves acknowledge – is very real.

While it’s hard to disagree that measles is unusually contagious, I do not think the natural conclusion is that it is more important to prevent it than other preventable diseases, to the tune of removing non-medical exemptions for measles vaccines only. As Opel et al themselves highlight, some of the other diseases are more deadly or harmful than measles. The combination of measles’ contagiousness and the effectiveness of the vaccine not only creates a strong argument for maximizing rates to prevent it – and I agree with the authors on that – but make it a good canary in the coal mine. Return of measles can be a warning sign – rates are dropping to a degree where the population starts to be vulnerable to outbreaks. This allows action before other diseases with higher rates of fatalities and harms (and as the authors mentioned, measles is bad enough) return. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar
11

Preparing for the Worst Day of the Year: Daylight Saving Spring Forward

written by Tara Haelle

The worst day of the year is upon us: this weekend, we “spring forward” for Daylight Saving Time this Sunday, March 13. It’s a double whammy because we lose an hour of sleep AND still must deal with the havoc that one hour of sleep shift creates for our kids. (I regard autumn’s “fall back” as the second worst day of the year, ameliorated only by the extra hour of sleep we get.) I write quite a bit about sleep and have read hundreds of research studies about sleep, but I have yet to come across the secret sauce that makes DST time-shifting more painless for parents.

This year, I interviewed Andy Rink, MD, a pediatric sleep expert and creator of the Lully Sleep Guardian*. I tend to be a fan of Q&As because they often make for easier reading and skimming, so here’s my Q&A with Dr. Rink on what to do about Daylight Saving Time. In addition, families who travel across time zones will find some tips on dealing with the threat of jet lag as well.

The spring forward DST time change is often a headache for parents trying to keep their children on a consistent sleep schedule. Photo by Anissa Thompson

The spring forward DST time change is often a headache for parents trying to keep their children on a consistent sleep schedule. Photo by Anissa Thompson

Many parents dread the arrival of DST time changes. Is it really that bad, or are we making it worse on ourselves?

For many of us, the loss of one hour’s sleep can sometimes feel like a household crisis because of the havoc it wreaks on your family’s schedule. Kids who have been sleeping on firm schedules for years can suddenly start waking up at odd hours of the night, tearful and confused. Parents who really need that extra hour of sleep can feel sluggish and groggy all day at work. As a physician and pediatric sleep expert with a background in childhood sleep disorders, I’ve seen countless families suffer from the cumulative effects of having too little sleep.

In what ways can the time change to DST in spring affect the sleep and sleep schedules of infants, young children and families in general?

Whether it’s jet lag from traveling across time zones or a one-hour change due to Daylight Saving Time, the abrupt loss of an hour’s sleep affects the internal body clock. Infants and children will be fighting to stay on their schedule according to their internal clocks, so naturally ALL of their daily activities (not just sleep) will tend to be pushed back one hour. If you do nothing to adjust the schedule around DST (which is actually a good option for early risers), your child will wake up an hour later, nap an hour later, may eat an hour later, etc. This can be similar in adults, although typically you can expect your reaction to DST to be similar to taking flight and having a one-hour time change.

What, if anything, can parents do leading up to the time changes (in the days or weeks before) that can mitigate this effect, particularly for toddlers and preschoolers?

You can adjust them gradually, by tapering daily schedules (including naps, meals and bedtimes) in 10-minute increments the entire week leading up to the Daylight Saving Time “spring forward” on Sunday, March 13. Or you can get around Mother Nature by installing room-darkening or black-out shades in the child’s nursery or bedroom. Make sure the entire family is well-rested leading up to the time change, so that everybody is up to dealing patiently with earlier than usual risers, and grumpier than usual little ones. The best thing that all families should do is make sure their children are getting good naps and are well rested going into the weekend.

For parents who have a child that is an early riser, spring DST can be a great time to do nothing and allow your child to naturally start sleeping in an hour later. For these families, they can follow the above nap tips, but they should refrain from adjusting bed or nap times. After Sunday, they should then move all daily activities (nap times, meal times, bath times, etc.) forward an hour to keep the child on the later schedule. They can slowly start moving daily activities around, but to keep their child sleeping later, they should try to maintain the later nap, bed, and wake times.

The other method is to slowly adjust the child’s schedule if you want to keep them on the same sleep/wake schedule they are currently on. Parents can start about a week before DST with moving the bedtime (and all of the child’s activities as much as possible) up 15 to 20 minutes. Then every couple of days, move things back another 15 to 20 mins. Around the switch to DST, or at least within the week after, they child should be back on their normal schedule. Trying to switch all their schedule a full hour on Sunday can be tough for kids.

If parents do not do anything to prepare for the time change to DST, how long does it typically take for young children to adjust to a slightly new schedule?

It generally takes a few days to a week to naturally adjust to the one-hour time difference.

To what extent can the tips you’re providing here help parents deal with jet lag when they’re traveling across time zones with young children?

Whether it’s jet lag from traveling across time zones or a one-hour change due to DST, the same principles can apply. However, if it just a short trip (a week or less), then it may be easier to just “do nothing” and move the child’s schedule forward or back an hour while on the vacation.

How much sleep should toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-age children each be getting each night, and what are the consequences if they get too little sleep?

Here are the latest sleep recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation Interestingly, the results of their comprehensive 2014 poll showed that parents on average report their children are sleeping on average one hour less than they should be getting. The best word of advice is consistency. Try to keep as close to the same bedtime routine as possible each day, on weekdays and weekends, at home and on vacation.

Is it possible for children to get “too much” sleep? If so, what would that look like, and what would the consequences of it be?

It’s not possible for a newborn to get too much sleep. If a young child is sleeping too much during the day, a consequence might be not sleeping through the night. If a teenager is sleeping too much, it could be due to a growth spurt, too much late night activity, or a sign of depression.

What if my child suffers from nightmares or sleep terrors or other sleep disorders? First of all, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that sleep disorders like sleepwalking and night terrors affect nearly 25% of American children. The problem is, when one family member suffers from a sleep disorder, studies show the entire family tends to suffer from increased stress and lack of sleep. Luckily there are some new technologies designed to help re-adjust children’s sleep patterns so they can avoid the problem all together. If it occurs during DST, the best thing to do is let the episode run its course and try to get to bed earlier the following night.

My family and I have a hard enough time falling asleep. What are some ways to get the family to settle in more easily?

Start the process of winding down an hour or two before the family goes to bed. Give children a relaxing bath. Dim their bedroom lights. Read a calming story. For adults, this means easing up on the alcohol or caffeine during the two hours prior to your bedtime. Be sure to limit your water intake in the evening to avoid bathroom breaks in the middle of the night.

I’ve used videos on my smartphone or an iPad to help my son settle down at bedtime occasionally in the past. How might the light from those devices affect him or me?

A 2014 study from the National Academy of Sciences found that the use of electronic devices such as e-readers and tablets right before bed can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep, suppress the natural levels of melatonin present in the body, delay the circadian clock, and reduce alertness in the morning. All of this will decrease chances of having a good night’s sleep during Daylight Saving Time, when it’s needed most.

 

*I have not used, tested, or researched the Lully Sleep Guardian, its mention is not an endorsement of this blog, and I do not receive any payment or in-kind compensation for mentioning the product. I link to it only as a courtesy to Dr. Rink for answering my questions.

Jan
29

Small Pediatricians Group Promotes Ideology, Not Evidence

written by Tara Haelle

A small group of pediatricians called the American College of Pediatricians periodically releases policy statements about various child and teen health issues. It’s obviously always important to understand who or what the source of information is, even when (perhaps especially when, George Orwell would say) the name itself sounds reliable.

So, who are these ACP* folks? First, they’re not in any way associated with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the national organization representing more than 60,000 pediatricians across the U.S. who make recommendations based on the most current research. The AAP are recognized as a credible, evidence-based professional organization whose positions carry great influence in child and maternal health. Certainly several medical specialties have more than one professional organization, but that doesn’t mean they are all equivalent in terms of their reliability.

Determining what is best for children's well-being should rely on what evidence shows us, not what non-evidence-based ideology promotes. Photo by Joplin Hendrix Da Silva Cruz

Determining what is best for children’s well-being should rely on what evidence shows us, not what non-evidence-based ideology promotes. Photo by Joplin Hendrix Da Silva Cruz

While the AAP relies on the evidence base to issue their policy statements, American College of Pediatricians relies on a politically-motivated social conservative agenda in drafting their policy statements. I don’t discuss politics or political ideology on this blog, and that’s not going to change today. Social conservatism and social liberalism or progressivism both have a place in our political landscape. But when political ideology replaces evidence in promoting a particular policy about children’s health, an organization oversteps its bounds in prioritzing children’s best interests. Belief systems should not dictate health or medical recommendations when they contradict facts from research.

The AAP has issued a tremendous number of evidence-based policy statements over the years. From foster and adopted children to children and disasters to mental health to adolescent health to sports and fitness to vaccines to community health to… there’s just about no topic related to children’s lives that the AAP hasn’t considered in light of the most current scientific research. By contrast, the American College of Pediatricians has issued exactly 34 position statements, and even a brief perusal of their titles will make it clear that they are ideologically focused not because they cover topics that the AAP does not but because the list is proportionally dominated with controversial topics about which social conservatives have strong political agendas. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan
28

Mixing and Matching Rotavirus Vaccines Is No Problem

written by Tara Haelle

Two different rotavirus vaccines have been licensed by the FDA: RotaTeq and Rotarix. Both of these came after Rotashield, an earlier vaccine that lasted barely over a year on the market before it was pulled because it led to a bowel obstruction disorder called intussusception in about 1-2 out of 10,000 infants. (RotaTeq and Rotarix also increase the risk of intussusception, which I explain in detail here, but the risk is lower.)

It’s not unusual for different companies to make vaccines for the same disease, but RotaTeq and Rotarix have slightly different schedules too: RotaTeq is given in three doses, and Rotarix is given in two doses. But if a doctor runs out of the brand your child got last time when you come in for the next well visit, is it safe to mix and match the two? That’s what a new study investigated.

A boy receives a dose of the rotavirus vaccine, an oral vaccine. Photo by Amber Cox

A boy receives a dose of the rotavirus vaccine, an oral vaccine. Photo by Amber Cox

With the exception of influenza vaccines, which have a lot of different options, most parents probably don’t spend a lot of time researching individual types of the same vaccine, such as Daptacel, the DTaP vaccine manufactured by Sanofi, versus Infanrix, the DTaP vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. (If you’re interested, you can find a full list of all the different vaccine brand names and what they contain at this CDC page.)

For the most part, your child receives whatever your doctor stocks. And, for the most part, there aren’t many significant differences between brands in terms of the way the vaccine is made. Some brands may contain slightly different components than another — which might be relevant if your child has a very specific known allergy to a particular brand’s ingredient — but the vaccines are generally pretty similar.

RotaTeq and Rotarix have pretty different manufacturing processes, however. Both are live oral vaccines, but they use different components of the actual virus to induce immunity. RotaTeq, licensed in 2006 to Merck, is pentavalent, which means it uses five reassorted human and cow rotaviruses mixed together. Children receive the first dose between 6-15 weeks old and should get the two additional doses by 8 months old. Rotarix, licensed in 2008 to GlaxoSmithKline, is monovalent, made from a single human strain of rotavirus. Its first dose is also recommended between 6-15 weeks with the second dose given by 8 months old. It’s worth noting that the introduction of these vaccines has gone far in reducing rotavirus infections and has boosted herd immunity against the disease. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan
11

How the U.S. Vaccine Schedule Compares to Other Countries’ Schedules

written by Tara Haelle

A common question I’m asked and that I see in forums discussing vaccines relates to how the U.S. recommended childhood immunization schedule compares to other nations, particularly those with similar economics and populations to those of the U.S. Now a new interactive tool at BMJ can help you explore exactly that question.

Screenshot 2016-01-09 17.42.07

The multimedia graphic “Calling the Shots” allows you to select individual vaccines or specific countries and lets you explore individual doses, total doses, and the time scale for recommendations for G8 countries. How a country makes decisions about vaccination recommendation is no simple formula. They consider the burden of the disease, both in terms of mortality and in terms of overall suffering and disability, and the cost of that burden compared to the cost of the vaccine. They also consider the effectiveness of the vaccine and its safety profile, including possible side effects. They may also take into account what they expect the uptake of a vaccine to be — a vaccine that’s recommended but which few people actually get may end up being less cost-effective as a result.

Cost is a particularly tricky issue because health care systems differ across different countries. For example, the UK does not routinely recommend the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine as the U.S. does. The reasons for this stem primarily from how the healthcare systems between the two countries differ. Chickenpox can be fatal, but it still kills rarely — about 100 cases a year in the U.S. before the vaccine. That’s no small number for the 100 families who lost someone to the disease, but it is relatively small compared to the scale of the U.S., whose population is considerably larger than that of the UK. In the U.S., where both private insurance companies and federal Medicaid funds pay for the vaccine, the cost-effectiveness calculation and the risk-benefit calculation in terms of illness and side effects both work out in favor of recommending the vaccine. In the UK, the risk-benefit calculation also works out, but the cost-effectiveness one does not. To put it bluntly, simply not enough kids would die from chickenpox every year for the UK government to justify paying for the shot for all its youth.

The above example is one example, but similar calculations must occur for every vaccine considered for a particular country’s schedule. The meningitis B vaccine, for example, is not recommended in the U.S. in part because it’s still a relatively rare disease, but it’s much more common in several countries overseas. The difference in the disease’s incidence will therefore play a role in how the national health agency of that country determines whether the vaccine should be recommended and for whom. Below is an embedded window showing you the page where the tool is hosted (scroll down a little to see the interactive part), but it’s easier to use on the BMJ site.

Jan
9

Happy New Year! Resolutions for 2016

written by Tara Haelle

Good riddance to 2015! It was a difficult year for this home, and it was incredibly rough in terms of world events. (I felt as though I could have rewritten this post — discussing ways to talk to children about traumatic events in the wake of the Newtown massacre — at least five times in 2015.) Last year also involved a lot of work for me, in good ways and challenging ways, and a lot of travel. That meant that this blog suffered much more than it typically does, which has become an unfortunate refrain. Therefore, I’m making three resolutions specific to this blog.

First, expect to see at least one original blog post each week from here on out. And if you don’t, feel free to hassle me. I really want to continue providing content here for regular readers in addition to the all the writing I’m doing at Forbes and various other outlets. One of the things that has held me up in the past is that I felt as though I *had* to publish a post about a new study or topic as soon as it was released. That’s how I used to do things at this blog, but that was before I had an extensive schedule of stories for other outlets and at Forbes. So, the posts you’ll read here may be a few days or even a few weeks behind in covering a study you might have seen in the news, but hopefully the difference is that you get something out of the analysis here that you didn’t in the mainstream news stories.

Second, expect to see a round-up of stories worth checking out every Friday or Saturday. At the end of each week, I’ll gather up various pieces from the week’s news, including items I’ve written as well as items in the news in general. I may also add a new section that links to press releases (clearly labeled!) and their original studies for the items that I wish I had been able to write about but couldn’t. The challenge I face every week is that so much fascinating research comes out, and it’s simply not possible to read it all, much less cover it all.

Third, I’m going to more actively seek some guest posts. This could be a double-edged sword. I’m frequently contacted via email by individuals looking to write for this blog, but few of them appear to have examined the style of the blog well enough to realize how crucial it is to examine peer-reviewed evidence in posts. There are certainly times I post “fluffier” items, and I’m going to open it up more to women sharing their personal stories because I think anecdotes *do* have a place in understanding our world and the human experience — as long as we’re not relying on them as evidence to make health decisions. In general, however, I welcome any contributions that look specifically at the evidence base in connection with a particular issue. Unfortunately I cannot pay for these — the advertising revenue on this blog does not even cover operating costs in terms of the domain and server so maintenance is a continual loss — but I hope some individuals may be interested in sharing nonetheless.

Our book will be officially released the first week of April!

Our book will be officially released the first week of April!

Aside from these resolutions, I’ll provide an update of a few activities and events this year that readers may be interested in. First, of course, is that the evidence-based parenting book I co-authored with Emily Willingham, a fellow blogger at Forbes I recommend following, will be out in April. We’re in the midst of booking radio and other interviews now, so hopefully you might catch us on the airwaves in addition to seeing some excerpts online and our book on shelves at your local bookstore. For those interested in pre-ordering the book, you can do so at Amazon and elsewhere. This Amazon link to The Informed Parent is an affiliate link, which I’ve just begun using. This means I will receive a commission if you purchase the book using that link, but your price will not be any different.

Next, I am working on several children’s book projects, and I’m looking forward to sharing those when they’re available. They are all science-related, with release dates ranging from this upcoming spring to two years from now.

Next, I have set up a TinyLetter newsletter for those who may be interested in receiving *all* of the articles I write, regardless of publication or topic, as well as other articles I’ve found worthwhile. I send it out approximately twice a month. You can see previous newsletters in the archive to get a sense of what will arrive in your email box.

Finally, I will potentially be doing some additional public speaking events this upcoming year that I’ll announce in the newsletter above. I will continue to write at Forbes, and my work will continue to appear in NPR, HealthDay, Everyday Health, Pediatric News, Medscape, and various other outlets.



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