Health and Science News for Parents

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 »


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 »


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.


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.


It’s That Time Again: Separating Fact from Fiction about the Flu Vaccine

written by Tara Haelle

This post is co-published with NPR’s health blog Shots. Check out the story for updated information about this year’s flu shot from a CDC medical officer.

Once again, flu season is upon us — and so are all the misconceptions, excuses and worries that have kept so many people away from getting their flu vaccines. Plenty of people are fully informed about the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and simply choose not to get the vaccine, as is their right (as long as they don’t work in healthcare settings where it’s required). But many others may have skipped the shot because they’ve bought into one of the many myths about the vaccine that always circulate with the influenza virus itself. Or perhaps they’ve read something unsettling about the vaccine that has a kernel of truth in it, but which has been blown out of proportion or misrepresented.

Of all the vaccines out there, the flu vaccine is unique in several ways: it’s the only one the CDC recommends for the entire (eligible) population every year, it has the most variability (and nearly always the lowest percentages) in effectiveness, and it has more tall tales told about it than Paul Bunyan. Much of the debunking and explaining you’ll find here is essentially the same as in past years’ posts, but a couple misconceptions have been rearranged, and I spent a bit more time discussing the evidence about potentially lower effectiveness of the flu vaccine in people who had gotten it the previous year.

Don't let bad information get in the way of making an important health decision.

Don’t let bad information get in the way of making an important health decision.

Another change you’ll find is that the “myths” are now concerns, phrased as questions. What’s up with that? I made that change for a couple reasons. One relates to the research findings that straight up stating myths and then debunking them can backfire, though this new approach doesn’t necessarily eliminate that risk. Another reason is that stating misconceptions declaratively implies an adversarial approach by the reader when, in reality, I hope and expect the majority of people reading this post genuinely have questions about the vaccine. So writing each one as a question better represents that spirit of inquiry.

Finally, I called these items “concerns” instead of “myths” because several of the issues discussed here are not outright “myths.” That is, some of these concerns originated from factual situations, but the details got gnarled and twisted along the way, or else the fact itself doesn’t have the implications people may expect it does. “Concerns” therefore better captures that each of these items is a legitimate concern for many people but is something that simply requires explanation, whether that’s an outright debunking or simply context and clarification.

One thing that needs a bit of clarification is last year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, as I discuss in the NPR Shots blog post that accompanies this one. The overall flu vaccine effectiveness last year was an uninspiring 23%, low enough to legitimately make you wonder why you bothered if you got the vaccine. But as I explain at NPR based on an interview with CDC influenza medical officer Lisa Grohskopf, the overall effectiveness doesn’t capture the effectiveness of each strain within the vaccine.

A poor match with the H3N2 strain — which caused the most illness and the most serious cases — was responsible for the lion’s share of that low number. Meanwhile, the match between the vaccine strains and the virus strains for B viruses, which circulated the most toward the end of the season, was good enough that the vaccine was closer to 60% effectiveness for those strains. This year, changes to the H3N2 strain for the vaccine should boost the effectiveness and offer a better showing than last year’s lousy run, according to Grohskopf.

With that info out of the way, let’s get to the flu vaccine concerns, with two important notes. First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in the hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed research articles, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common misconceptions and clarify common concerns about the flu vaccine. This post does not constitute a recommendation from me personally to each reader to get a flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2015-2016 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.

To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 concerns at the top followed by the factual information below it. They hyperlinked facts will jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.

Concern #1: Can getting the flu vaccine give you the flu or may you sick?
Fact: The flu shot can’t give you the flu.

Concern #2: Do I really need to get the flu vaccine this year if I got it last year?
Fact: For now, a new flu shot each year is still recommended.

Concern #3: Could getting the flu vaccine make it easier for me to catch viruses, pneumonia or other infectious diseases?
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce the risk of pneumonia and other illnesses.

Concern #4: Isn’t the flu shot just a “one size fits all” approach that doesn’t make sense for everyone?
Fact: You have many flu vaccine options, including egg-free, virus-free, preservative-free, low-dose, high-dose and no-needle choices.

Concern #5: Can the flu shot cause death?
Fact: There have been no confirmed deaths from the flu shot.

Concern #6: Aren’t deaths from the flu exaggerated?
Fact: Deaths from influenza range from the lower thousands to tens of thousands each U.S. flu season.

Concern #7: Aren’t the side effects of the flu shot worse than the flu?
Fact: Influenza is nearly always far worse than flu vaccine side effects.

Concern #8: Don’t flu vaccines contain dangerous ingredients such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze?
Fact: Flu shot ingredients do not pose a risk to most people.

Concern #9: Shouldn’t pregnant women avoid the flu shot or only get the preservative-free shot? Could the flu vaccine cause miscarriages?
Fact: Pregnant women are a high risk group particularly recommended to get the flu shot. Fact: The flu shot reduces miscarriage risk. Fact: Pregnant women can get any inactivated flu vaccine.

Concern #10: Can flu vaccines cause Alzheimer’s disease?
Fact: There is no link between Alzheimer’s disease and the flu vaccine; flu vaccines protect older adults.

Concern #11: Don’t pharmaceutical companies make a massive profit off flu vaccines?
Fact: Vaccines comprise a tiny proportion of pharma profits. That makes it possible for them to continue making them in the event of a pandemic.

Concern #12: Flu vaccines don’t really work, do they?
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce the risk of flu.

Concern #13: But flu shots don’t work in children, do they?
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce children’s risk of flu.

Concern #14: Can flu vaccines cause vascular or cardiovascular disorders?
Fact: Flu shots reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Concern #15: Can vaccines can break through the blood-brain barrier of young children and hinder their development?
Fact: Flu vaccines have been found safe for children 6 months and older.

Concern #16: Will the flu vaccine cause narcolepsy?
Fact: The US seasonal flu vaccine does not cause narcolepsy.

Concern #17: Can the flu vaccine weaken your body’s immune response?
Fact: The flu vaccine prepares your immune system to fight influenza.

Concern #18: Can’t the flu vaccine cause nerve disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome?
Fact: Influenza is more likely than the flu shot to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Concern #19: Can the flu vaccine make you walk backwards or cause other neurological disorders like Bell’s palsy?
Fact: Neurological side effects linked to flu vaccination are extremely rare (see Concern #18), but influenza can cause neurological complications. Fact: The flu shot has not been shown to cause Bell’s palsy.

Concern #20: Don’t people recover quickly from flu since it’s not really that bad?
Fact: Influenza knocks most people down *hard*.

Concern #21: Can people die from the flu even if they don’t have another underlying condition?
Fact: Otherwise healthy people DO die from the flu.

Concern #22: Can people with egg allergies get the flu shot?
Fact: People with egg allergies can get a flu shot.

Concern #23: Can’t I just take antibiotics if I get the flu?
Fact: Antibiotics can’t treat a viral infection.

Concern #24: Since I got the flu last time I got a flu shot, that means it doesn’t really work for me personally, right?
Fact: The flu shot cannot guarantee you won’t get the flu, but it reduces everyone’s risk.

Concern #25: But I don’t need the shot since I never get the flu, right?
Fact: You can’t predict whether you’ll get the flu.

Concern #26: Can’t I protect myself from the flu by simply eating right and washing my hands regularly?
Fact: A good diet and good hygiene alone cannot prevent the flu.

Concern #27: Won’t getting the flu simply make my immune system stronger?
Fact: The flu weakens your immune system while your body is fighting it and puts others at risk.

Concern #28: If I get the flu, why won’t just staying home prevent me from infecting others?
Fact: You can transmit the flu without showing symptoms.

Concern #29: Can having a new vaccine each year make influenza strains stronger?
Fact: There’s no evidence flu vaccines have a major effect on virus mutations.

Concern #30: Isn’t the “stomach flu” the same thing as the flu?
Fact: The “stomach flu” is a generic term for gastrointestinal illnesses unrelated to influenza.

Concern #31: Is there any point in getting a flu shot if I haven’t gotten one by now?
Fact: Getting the flu shot at any time during flu season will reduce your risk of getting the flu. Read the rest of this entry »


Help “Shatter the Myths” about postpartum depression

written by Tara Haelle

When I had my first son, I and my husband were on the lookout for symptoms of postpartum depression. I have a history of depression and am therefore already at higher risk for postpartum depression than the average person. As I have already written, I did not experience the overwhelming love that so many new moms describe, and that did worry me. But I also felt fortunate that I never fell into the depths of postpartum depression. Perhaps it was my vigilance, perhaps it was the support I had, or perhaps I was just really damn lucky.finalMTTDgraphic1-1

I was not so lucky with my second child. I had my second son while working on our book (thank goodness it’s done!). I struggled a great deal with breastfeeding and was not able to exclusively breastfeed him as I had done with my first son and as I had planned. (That is a whole other post I will write another day.) I was fine for the first several months, but eventually I did experience postpartum depression. It was not so surprising considering I had experienced prenatal depression as well, the cousin that no one remembers to talk about.

Fortunately, however, I knew the signs, and I had received enough support in treatment in the past that I knew to seek help quickly. I contacted my OB/GYN’s office and began seeing a therapist in addition to adjustments to my medication. Early, prompt treatment is essential to recovery. Postpartum depression is an illness like any other, and it requires treatment.

Other women, however, are not so fortunate to have the support, knowledge, and understanding of postpartum depression as I did. They suffer in silence, believing they are worthless, inadequate, horrible mothers. They may worry about hurting themselves or their child sometimes. They alternate between thinking the way they feel is normal and thinking they are completely abnormal. They don’t know that they need to get help, or perhaps worse, they are scared to ask for it. Read the rest of this entry »


What happens when you mix cuddles with philanthropy? An opportunity for a conversation

written by Tara Haelle

The insanity of my schedule of late has meant that I’ve not kept up with blogging here as much as I’ve wanted to. I have a few pieces in the works to rectify that. But I needed to publish this post today because it involves an opportunity that ends this evening — a “discount” on sending 10 meals to children in need.

Everest the Penguin is one of the cuddle+kind dolls whose purchase donates 10 meals to families in need.

Everest the Penguin is one of the cuddle+kind dolls whose purchase donates 10 meals to families in need.

Of course, I’ll need to back up a bit first to explain. I rarely write about items I’m offered or mailed sent to review because more than enough “mommy bloggers” fill that role already and my focus is on evidence-based parenting topics. But today I’m breaking that rule of thumb — I think for the first time? — because it somewhat fits my desire to expand the blog’s focus a little bit into areas of social justice, albeit remaining grounded in evidence.

One area I’d like to explore is evidence-based ways we can teach our children empathy and encourage them to think more broadly about the world outside their community. Although I have not had a chance to delve into this research yet, I suspect simply starting conversations about the needs of children overseas — kids relate to other kids — may be a start for the youngest children. That’s precisely the kind of opportunity that a new non-profit called cuddle+kind offers.

Created by Jennifer and Derek Woodgate of Milton, Ontario, cuddle+kind sells handmade dolls, each of whose purchase donates 10 meals to children by way of their partners, World Food Program USA and Children’s Hunger Fund. (Both these charities rank high on the Charity Navigator.) You can read the specifics about the dolls on their website, but I agreed to check out one of the dolls they sent for a couple reasons. One was that they selected such high-quality charities to partner with. Another was that the dolls are manufactured by Peruvian women, providing them with fair trade income. That’s an issue dear to my heart both as someone who advocates for gender equality and fair trade and as someone who has visited Peru multiple times. Read the rest of this entry »


A Q&A with me about vaccines, health communication & immunization legislation

written by Tara Haelle

As you’ve probably noticed by the recent erratic posting on this blog, I’ve been crazy busy. Some has been good — lots of new assignments and new opportunities — and some has been challenging — family health issues — but it’s all made it difficult to blog as regularly as I want to, and I have a long list of posts half-written in my head and waiting to be finished and posted. fbtimeline_BirthTo6

Although I missed the opportunity to post much during National Immunization Awareness Month in August, I did answer questions for a Q&A with Sophia Bernazzani, community manager of MHA@GW, the official blog for the online master of health administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. They published the Q&A last week, and I’m reproducing it with permission here because I answer several questions that my blog readers may have as well. Enjoy!

Since last winter, there have been outbreaks of measles in the U.S., a disease that was declared eliminated in 2000. Recent incidences have been frightening because they’re manageable in a world where nearly everyone gets vaccinated, but some people use personal reasons to avoid them. What needs to change in the conversation to prevent future diseases and superbugs from becoming a full-fledged outbreak?

There needs to be a big overhaul in the way we talk about immunization to remove shame and finger-pointing from the conversation. I’ve found that some of the people who promote immunizations cite biological research but don’t also refer to social science research. However, there’s a lot of research on what convinces people to get vaccinated. What doesn’t work is shaming people and finger-pointing … and that’s what’s going on in conversations today. There also needs to be a change in how doctors talk to patients about immunizations. Patients have real concerns, and given rampant misinformation online and in the media, their concerns aren’t unreasonable. People can’t get all of the information they need about immunizations on Google.

But some doctors ask, “Why don’t you trust me?” when patients ask questions. That’s the wrong attitude. Skepticism is healthy, and many doctors aren’t well-equipped to handle all the concerns about immunizations that vaccine-hesitant parents may have during a 15-minute checkup. The problem is insurance companies don’t reimburse doctors for the extra time, so most can’t afford to spend more time with patients going over these concerns. I would love to see a complete overhaul of the health care system in which insurance companies could empower doctors to spend time with their patients to build trust and show them evidence to improve immunization rates.

Doctors need to be empathetic and compassionate, and not dismissive. I understand the perspective of a doctor who spends years in training and residency and is the subject matter expert. I can understand how doctors would feel insulted when patients say they don’t trust them. But it’s not about doctors, it’s about the big picture. It’s about patients versus vast amounts of misinformation, not patients versus doctors. There will be some people you can’t reach, but a lot more vaccine-hesitant people can be reached with empathy and compassion.

What are your thoughts on laws like S.B. 277, a law passed this summer in California, that eliminate personal and religious exemption from vaccines for school-aged children? Why aren’t other states passing similar laws?

Read the rest of this entry »


Presidential candidates misrepresenting vaccines? I can’t let that go.

written by Tara Haelle

It was late last Wednesday evening when I was just about to begin working again on a major feature due the next day — and a couple friends on Facebook alerted me that vaccines made an appearance during the Republican debate on CNN. Great, I thought. Just what I need. It was close to midnight, and I had a 6:30am flight the next morning to DC for a women-in-science event the following evening. I hadn’t finished packing, and the feature needed to be done by 5pm the following day. But after the third person mentioned the debate, I figured I needed to check it out.

Of course I needed a photo of myself in the NPR studios just before recording the segment with Audie Cornish. It was so awesome to meet her in person!

Of course I needed a photo of myself in the NPR studios just before recording the segment with Audie Cornish. It was so awesome to meet her in person!

I already knew that Donald Trump frequently repeated the vaccine-autism myth, so I assumed that Ben Carson had set him straight and that was that. I was completely blindsided and disappointed by Carson’s response, however. As soon as I finished watching the clip, I knew I would have to write about it. I couldn’t believe such a well-respected pediatric neurosurgeon had repeated the Jenny McCarthy mantra of “too many, too soon” and even suggested that “many” other pediatricians agreed. I also bristled at the implication that the CDC recommends any vaccines which don’t prevent death. Carson had been handed a golden opportunity to educate the masses watching the debate about a major public health issue, and he blew it.

I had been formulating the response in my head as I rewatched the clip from the debate and transcribed it, so I pulled up the CDC schedule and got to work, describing succinctly how each disease we vaccinate against can ruin or end a life and then describing the problems with the “too many too soon” mantra. I wrote the post quickly, scheduled it for 6am the next morning, packed, made some more progress on the feature story, and finally hit the sack at 2:30am. I was up by 5:15am for my flight and arrived in DC shortly after 11am.

Meanwhile, the Forbes post was gathering steam — fast. I’ve been blown away by the response — as I write this, it has over 375,000 views — and thrilled that it led to my first appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered, where I talked with Audie Cornish about the risks of delaying vaccines. I’ve written about this issue before for Scientific American, but it was a great opportunity to drive home the point that following the CDC schedule poses fewer risks than designing your own schedule (barring any legitimate medical concerns that are discussed with a doctor).

I still find it deeply troubling that three of the Republican candidate for president, including two doctors, were so misinformed or dismissive of vaccines and the CDC vaccine schedule. I don’t know if Carson truly believes what he said, was pandering to the Republican base, or was simply intimidated by Trump, but it none of those three possibilities inspires confidence in his leadership. I’ve received a significant number of emails and “corrections” to the Forbes post, including from MDs, chastising me for “misinterpreting” Carson’s words or having the audacity and arrogance to presume I know as much as a pediatric neurosurgeon. He has a lot of fanboys and fangirls, to be sure.

But I don’t need to know as much as Carson. I only need to know what the consensus of the scientific evidence shows, what the medical and public health communities agree on, and what the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, and other major organizations make clear: the CDC childhood immunization schedule is as safe and effective as our current technology allows with vaccines. It’s not 100% safe, as nothing in life is or ever can be. But its benefits far, far outweigh its risks, and that’s something anyone wanting to govern the nation should know.You can read my Forbes post here. You can also read about Carson’s much more informed and sensible previous comments on vaccines in a post by Emily Willingham here. And Forbes contributor Steven Salzberg also covered the issue here.You can read the transcript of my NPR appearance and hear the segment here.


Handy chart for well-child visits and vaccinations

written by Tara Haelle

During National Immunization Month in August, various public health organizations created a wealth of resources for parents that relate to vaccines. One of those is elegantly simple and shared here. The Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences created a handy graphic that outlines all the ages when children get their well-child visits and what vaccines and screenings they get at each one. The graphic goes from birth to age 17 and couldn’t be presented more simply. It’s perfect for printing out to post on the fridge too.

Brought to you by Nursing@Simmons: FNP Program


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