Thursday, April 28, 2016

Every Child’s Life is Precious

During World Immunization Week (April 24-30) organizations around the world raise their voices to educate, promote and increase the rates of immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Why? Because every child’s life is precious!  Yet in developing countries around the world, a child dies every 20 seconds of diseases that can be easily prevented with a vaccine.  When you think that every 20 seconds a child dies (which equals 3 children per minute), 180 will die in an hour and 4320 children will die in a day.  Can you imagine 1440 children dying during your shift of 8 hours at work? I know for many of us here in United States this seems astonishing and incredible, but this is a reality for many mothers and children in developing countries.

As a former nurse, an avid educator and as an advocate for children’s health, I know the impact vaccines have in improving children’s chances to grow healthy and to get an education.  I personally witnessed firsthand the pain and sorrow of mothers when their children were suffering.  I remember their stoic faces as others held back tears while holding their dead children in their arms.  I witnessed how diarrhea took the lives of little children because their mothers did not realize they could die from it.  The sad part is that all of these childhood diseases could have been prevented with a simple vaccine.

Every year I volunteer and travel to do humanitarian missions in developing countries.  My personal focus is to educate the rural community leaders and adults about childhood diseases and of the importance of immunizations as a way to prevent these diseases in their children.  Without regard to the distances and sacrifices they bear, these parents are eager to learn and walk 5-10 hours to get to a clinic to ask for help and receive proper care.  Poverty, malnutrition and lack of education keep these little communities isolated and far away from common notice or knowledge.

I traveled to Uganda with the Shot@life team and witnessed their Childhood Immunization Family Health Day hosted by UNICEF in the districts of Mumbende and Fort Portal after mosque and church services.  Mothers with their children lined up and waited patiently to receive medical care, some of them having walked 10-15 miles to get their children immunized.  My favorite part was talking to the mothers and listening to their concerns and worries which were not unlike ours.  I met mothers that had lost as many as five children before their 5th birthday.  Other mothers did not name their children until they were sure they would not die young.  In developing countries, many mothers never see their children live to celebrate their 5th birthday.  Instead of celebrating a birthday, they have to prepare for their child’s burial.

I talked to doctors and country representatives of Fort Portal and they told me that 386 children under the age of five will die in one day and that 141,000 children under five are lost annually.  Uganda is one of 30 countries in the world with the highest number of deaths of children in that age group.
I know these mothers and children seem a world far away from us, but they are no different than we are and each child life is precious.  Children everywhere deserve a shot at a healthy life no matter where they live.

The good news is that the worldwide measles vaccination program has resulted in a 79% drop in measles-related deaths (between 2000 and 2014) - and we, here in the U.S., can have an impact on the lives of children around the globe.  Funding for global vaccine programs is less than 1% of the total U.S. budget, but this funding helps save 2.5 million lives every year.

Vaccines don’t just prevent illness!  They give children the chance to grow up healthy, attend school, and become productive members of society.  They are a “best-buy” in global health with a low cost and a long-term payoff that extends far beyond the health of an individual child.

It is also important to remember that vaccinations are not just a global issue - vaccinations are a local and a national issue. We all are part of the human race and we have a shared responsibility for the less fortunate.  Policymakers, both here and in Washington, should stand up and support US-led global health programs, specifically those programs focused on saving the lives of children in developing countries by providing them with vaccines.

As a mother and a Shot@Life Champion Leader I know that each of us can make a difference this week!

 Join us in supporting global health by; meeting with your legislators and asking for their support in funding global vaccines programs. You can also make a donation to support the work of the UN and vaccine partners around the globe at

Think about it – in the 6 or 7 minutes it took you to read this article, 18 to 21 children died of vaccine- preventable diseases.  Please, every child life is precious.  Together we can save more children!

Felisa Hilbert is former nurse from Mexico that worked and participated in many rural vaccine campaigns where she saw firsthand the pain and sorrow that many  children suffer due to the lack of vaccines and medical care. She is also a Nurses Who Vaccinate member. 
Mrs. Hilbert humanitarian mom & wife with a heart to help children in or from developing countries. Global health, poverty and  participate in education are some of her favorite passions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CDC—When a Behemoth Needs Help #NIIW

To obtain a master’s degree in public relations, one of my course requirements was to analyze the public relations perspectives of any topical issue. It coincided with the peak period of the Ebola crisis, so I quickly picked on the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), because the Center was in the middle of it all.

Predictably, the summation of my presentation was that the CDC underperformed in managing the crisis, as it was always putting the wrong foot forward at almost all instances. It was either the CDC reacted very late or said the wrong thing, so much so that its credibility was almost called into question. Barely one year after, another deadly disease, Zika is now on the prowl, and I visited the CDC website to see how the Center is responding this time around.

While on the site, I spent more time going through other activities of the CDC and was astounded at the volume of activities the Center deals with on daily basis.

From diseases like cancer to heart disease, sexually transmitted disease, ADHD, diabetes, flu(influenza), the Center is also highly involved in emergency preparedness, workplace safety& health, environmental health and outbreaks, to mention but a few.

I quickly came to the conclusion that the CDC is akin to a healthcare clearing house, a healthcare behemoth and I wondered if its staff strength is able to effectively coordinate these numerous activities.

I left the site with empathy, feeling strongly that the Center needs help. For a Center that works daily to protect Americans from health, safety and security threats, both from abroad and in the U.S, the body sure needs help from health workers, it needs help from health professionals and it needs help from volunteers and most especially it needs help from nonprofit organizations that are scattered all over the place.

Taking into consideration that whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, the CDC fights them and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

It is in the light of this that one commends the initiative of Nurses Who Vaccinate (NWV), a not-for-profit organization made up of nurses and other health professionals who advocate for immunizations to hold a local version of the National Infant Immunization Awareness program in Long Island, New York must be commended.

The National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), is an annual program of the Center for Disease Control to highlight the positive impact of vaccinations on the lives of infants and children. It is a national program set for April 16-23 in 2016 and is celebrated as part of the World Immunization Week, an initiative of the World Health Organization.

However, Nurses Who Vaccinate, in conjunction with other nurses on Long Island, is leveraging the CDC’s infant immunization week to reach out to the underserved population with information and education to advocate for wellness of children in its communities.

Melody Butler, a pediatric nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in Long Island, founder of the organization says “their mission is to collaborate with health systems and other organizations to promote general wellness for all through immunization.”

This collaboration becomes very pertinent because as big as CDC might be, it cannot be at every nook and corner of the country and therefore needs foot soldiers to help spread its health and wellness message.

Without a doubt, not many people are aware of the infants’ immunization week, but this young and proactive nonprofit, NWV is holding the event at the Martin Luther King Health Center at Wyandanch, a small community in New York.

According to Melody Butler, the event is to compliment efforts of the CDC in advancing the cause and benefits of immunization.

“At a time, some nurses, saddled with the responsibility to vaccinate are now opposed to it, it becomes incumbent on us, the pro-vaccination nurses to raise the bar by joining hands to promote vaccination,” Butler pointed out.

NWV she indicated, has put in place all that is needed at the community level to bring together parents and guardians and educate them on the virtue of vaccinations.

At the national level, the CDC is using the infants’ immunization awareness week to among others highlight the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases, especially to infants and young children, educate parents and caregivers about the importance of vaccination in protecting their children from birth against vaccine-preventable diseases and focus attention on its immunization achievements and also, celebrate the accomplishments made possible through successful collaboration.

Findings show that the CDC will also step up efforts to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases, thereby give them a healthy start in life, encourage better communication between parents and health care professionals and remind parents and caregivers they need to make and keep needed immunization appointments.

It has also created events that attract community support and media interest in order to increase national and local coverage of stories on the importance of childhood immunization, as well as create opportunities for local organizations and agencies to work together as immunization partners, for which the NWV is taking advantage of.

The Center has never pretended it can effectively do this nationwide alone, it therefore supports efforts to provide web-based resources for state and local health departments and local coalitions to develop and implement a communication strategy that will increase awareness of the importance of immunization and improve local vaccine coverage rates.

Not even a million staff members can help send CDC’s wellness message to all the communities, it therefore needs in large number, the partnership of organizations like Nurses Who Vaccinate to serve as messengers of this important lifesaving information.

Since 1994, local and state health departments, national immunization partners, healthcare professionals, community leaders from across the United States and CDC have worked together through NIIW to highlight the positive impact of vaccination on the lives of infants and children, and to call attention to immunization achievements. By so doing, several notable milestones have been accomplished in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide.

Partnership is the keyword here. Working on the communications aspect for the 2016 NIIW, with Nurses Who Vaccinate in New York, one sees first hand, how the organization takes the immunization message to the grassroots through a one on one mobilization and education of members of the community on the benefits of immunization.

The grassroots approach at community health centers, WIC offices, pediatric clinics adopted by Nurses Who Vaccinate goes a long way to allay the fears and concerns parents have against immunization and kudos must also be given to the CDC for the avalanche of materials made available in various languages for this awareness drive on infant immunization.

Like the theme of this year’s campaign says, immunization indeed has power to protect!

Williams Ekanem, is a communications specialist based in Long Island, New York can be reached @

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Is Why it's Important that DeNiro Canceled "VAXXED:" There is no link between vaccines and autism.

In light of Autism Acceptance Month, we at Nurses Who Vaccinate would like to sincerely thank the TriBeCa Film Festival and Mr. Robert DeNiro for making the decision to remove the documentary "Vaxxed" from the lineup.  While Mr. DeNiro originally desired to add more to the conversation on vaccines and autism, we are thrilled to hear that he listened to the advice and wisdom of the medical professionals he met with from the CDC when they assured him that there are no links between vaccines and autism, and that nothing additional would be added to the conversation by showing the film.

It's really important that DeNiro canceled this film, and this is why: vaccines don't have anything to do with autism, and promoting this idea is not only dangerous to public health, but it leads parents to put their children at risk by making the choice to forgo the recommended schedule of vaccines for their children without any good reason to do so.

The film "Vaxxed" discusses the flawed research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist who lost his medical license for claiming that the MMR vaccine led to autism based upon his "research," which appeared in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, in 1998. It has been stated that the Wakefield fraud is "likely to go down as one of the most serious frauds in medical history." (Godlee F. The fraud behind the MMR scare. BMJ. 2011;342:d22.)

 In the year 2000, the Lancet retracted Wakefield's study and 10 of the 12 authors also rescinded their involvement.

Since the Wakefield study hit the world in 1998, countless families across the globe have made the choice to stop vaccinating their children for fear of developing autism despite the fact that there are hundreds of large-scale studies  involving thousands of children which demonstrate no link between vaccines and autism. Parents still cling to Wakefield's study, which only included a sample size of 12 children from which he took blood samples at child's birthday party. Research studies typically include thousands of study subjects, and 12 is hardly grounds for proving any link of any kind. Further, no scientist or researcher has ever been able to replicate Dr. Wakefield's results and the CDC alone has funded 9 studies since 2013 which also demonstrate no link between vaccines and autism.

 The global damage from Wakefield's retracted study has been insurmountable. In Britain, MMR vaccinations dropped to only 80% in 2004. There were more cases of measles in the US in 2008 than there were in 1997 before the MMR vaccine was widely utilized. Even after anti-vaxxers funded a study which also demonstrated no link between vaccines and autism, people still believe that there is a link.

Wakefield received more than $670,000 from lawyers to testify on behalf of families who intended to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine, while Wakefield was also working on his own measles vaccine. This was a huge conflict of interest which he failed to report and ultimately led to the rescinding of his medical license in 2004.
It has been 18 years since Andrew Wakefield fueled the fears of parents globally, and he intends to do so further with the creation of the "Vaxxed" documentary.

It was a very big high-five for public health that "Vaxxed" was not played at the TriBeCa film festival and we are very thankful that to TriBeCa and Mr. DeNiro for making the decision to end a conversation which shouldn't have been started in the first place. Here's a great review on the documentary and why it's not worth seeing:

There never has been, nor will there ever be, a link between vaccines and autism and getting your children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is one of the best choices you can make for your family!

Angela Quinn, BSN, RN is a registered nurse on Long Island, NY. She is passionate about nursing and public health and is involved with a number of projects which promote life-saving vaccines. Angela volunteers as an Executive Board Member in Vaccine Advocacy for Nurses Who Vaccinate, is the founder of the blog Correcting the Misconceptions of Anti-Vaccine Resources and is the creator of Future Nurse Abby.