Entries in Vaccine (42)


12 Flu Myths Debunked

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Influenza, the dreaded cold-weather virus, was once believed to be brought on by the influence of the stars. Although that particular flu myth has been dispelled, doctors still battle other myths about the flu and its vaccine each season.

"Flu myth busting is the most difficult thing I do," said Dr. Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

From how you get the flu to how you fight it off to concerns over the safety of the seasonal flu vaccine, there's a lot of misinformation out there that may leave people underprotected for flu season, experts say.

ABC News asked experts to set the record straight on 12 hard-to-shake flu myths.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu vaccine can give me the flu.'

Verdict: False. Despite the continual urging by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all Americans over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated against the seasonal flu, less than 50 percent of eligible people in the U.S. got vaccinated in 2011, according to CDC data. Much of this lag in vaccination rates stems from lingering fears over the safety of the vaccine.

This fear began in 1979, when live-virus vaccines were used and people did get sick from them, said Horovitz. "That was the start of people deciding they weren't going to get a flu shot," he added.

But today, injectable flu vaccine uses dead virus and "is made up of only parts of the flu virus, so it cannot in any way give you the flu," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

While the nasal spray variety of the vaccine uses a live, weakened virus, it can only multiply in the colder environment of the nose and can't give you the actual, full-blown flu. Sometimes people have a sore throat and runny nose for a day, but not the actual flu, Schaffner said.

One reason that this myth persists is that flu vaccine causes a brief fever in about one percent of recipients, which leads some to worry that they are actually getting the flu after getting the vaccine. But "these are very transient and rare reactions," said Schaffner, and do not indicate that the patient has the flu.

Another issue is that it can take several weeks for the vaccine to cause the buildup of enough antibodies in the body to become effective, "so it is quite possible to get the flu soon after getting vaccinated, which could lead to this misunderstanding," said John Barry, author of "The Great Influenza."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu vaccine is dangerous, especially for pregnant women.'

Verdict: False.
The flu vaccine is given in the hundreds of millions of doses every year and is "extraordinarily safe," Schaffner says. Other doctors echo this sentiment -- that the flu itself is the threat, not the vaccine.

There are very rare risks associated with any vaccine, said Dr. Christian Sandrock, a physician and an expert in infectious disease at the University of California Davis Medical Center, but it's about weighing the benefits of vaccine against the risk.

"What is far more dangerous is taking the risk that you will get infected with flu if not vaccinated," said David Topham, co-director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence. "Flu infection kills almost 40,000 people each year in the U.S. alone. Flu vaccine does not kill anyone."

Fears about the use of the flu vaccine by pregnant women stem from generations past, when women were advised against getting any vaccine while pregnant, said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"This was because the vaccines a generation ago were live virus vaccines. Today, the injectable vaccine is just pieces of protein and there is no risk of getting the flu from it," he said. The nasal vaccine, which does contain live virus, however, is not recommended for pregnant women.

Getting the flu, and the high fever that accompanies it, is much more of a concern for pregnant women, Poland says, because high fever in the early stages of pregnancy can lead to certain neurologic brain defects in the baby. Hence, preventing flu infection with vaccination and getting early treatment is of the utmost importance for pregnant women.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Young, healthy people don't need to be vaccinated because the flu is only dangerous for infants and the elderly.'

Verdict: False. Considering that those who are young and healthy generally fend off flu better than younger children, senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems, many believe that it's not that important for those at low risk of suffering flu complications to get vaccinated. But this couldn't be farther from the truth, according to Schaffner.

"The flu is a viral disease that can put you in bed and into the hospital very quickly, even in young, healthy people. Even if the flu only does this to one out of every 300 young healthy people, we can't pick those people out in advance, so we want to protect everyone," he said,

More importantly, widespread vaccination is critical to protect, not just you, but the people around you.

"Vaccines have two functions: they protect the person who is vaccinated, but also everyone around that person -- because the person will not spread the flu," Schaffner said. "And someone around that young, healthy person may have diabetes, or be elderly, or be a small infant, and you want to protect these people from getting sick."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Getting the flu vaccine will completely protect me from getting the seasonal flu.'

Verdict: Not quite. The flu vaccine is only about 59 percent effective at warding off flu, according to a 2011 review published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Nevertheless, experts say the flu shot is still the best defense against the virus.

"While we hope and wait for a perfect vaccine, we've got a good one that's capable of preventing influenza and its complication," said Schaffner. "It can't prevent every instance, but it can prevent many. And that's a good thing."

Because the vaccine has its limitations, other methods of flu prevention such as hand washing and staying away from those who are sick are still very important. Regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and cleaning commonly-used surfaces at home frequently are also good ways to stop the flu in its tracks.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'If I already got the flu this year, I shouldn't bother getting vaccinated because I can't get it again.'

Verdict: Not quite. Often, there is a misconception that there is just one influenza strain that circulates in any given season. If this were the case, then getting the flu once would provide your body with the antibodies necessary to fight off that flu and prevent you from coming down with the flu again that season.

"If only this were the case," said Schaffner. Instead, there are hundreds of different types of flu viruses that circulate at any given time, so if you get the flu once, you only have protection from that specific type of flu.

In terms of vaccination, this means that just because you got the flu already, this doesn't meant that you should still get the vaccine. You are still susceptible to other types of flu and the vaccine offers the best, although not full-proof, protection against getting these other strains, Schaffner said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'I got vaccinated last year, so I don't need to get the vaccine this year.'

Verdict: Definitely false. Again, there are hundreds of different strains of flu virus, and these strains change constantly. Every year, the vaccine is made by selecting the three most common types of virus that are currently circulating.

"That's why we need a new vaccine every year," said Schaffner.

For the same reason that getting the flu in November won't protect you from getting another strain in December, getting the vaccine for the strains of flu circulating in 2010 will not necessarily protect you from the types that will be circulating in 2011.

Scientists are working toward a stronger, more universal vaccine that could be a one-shot deal -- with the occasional booster.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'If I haven't gotten vaccinated by Christmas, there's no point.'

Verdict: False. While it's better to get the vaccination before the flu season peaks, that doesn't mean it's too late to protect yourself by vaccinating in January or February or even March.

"Flu peaks in February and early March, so there's still time to get vaccinated," said Schaffner, "but that's why I say jog, don't walk, to the drug store to get vaccinated today."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Catching a chill by sitting near drafty window or going out in cold weather will make me get the flu.'

Verdict: Mostly false. Getting severely chilled to the point of hypothermia can make the immune system less resilient, which may make someone more susceptible to flu, doctors say, but you still have to come into contact with the flu to get the flu -- and getting a chill, in and of itself, is not going to do it.

Also, your standard amount of "chill" from a drafty window or going out with wet hair is not going to be enough to predispose you to illness, Schaffner said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Taking vitamin C or echinacea will prevent flu.'

Verdict: The data suggest false. Despite speculation that taking large doses of vitamin C or echinacea will protect people from flu, the data just aren't there to support them as flu-fighters, Schaffner said. There's some mixed evidence that these supplements will help fight off a cold, but when it comes to flu, these methods "strike out," he said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'Taking antibiotics will fight the flu.'

Verdict: False. While antibiotics are sometimes used to control infection such as pneumonia that can accompany serious bouts of flu, antibiotics cannot treat viral infections like the flu.

Antiviral mediation such as Tamiflu and Relenza can fight off the flu virus, but even these can only shorten the duration of the illness, not resolve it altogether, Horovitz said.

Flu Fact and Fiction

'I should starve a fever, feed a cold.'

Verdict: False. This old adage may sound nice, but there is "no science to prove that it works," said Dr. Peter Katona, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA Medical Center. "You don't starve a flu, you need food and liquids for both [flu and cold]."

"Keeping up fluids is most important," Schaffner added, "and if you're hungry, keep it to simple foods to go easy on your tummy. This is not the time to get spicy Szechuan chicken."

Flu Fact and Fiction

'The flu is a normal illness, so I should just stay at home and ride it out.'

Verdict: Not necessarily. For most people who get the flu, staying at home and getting rest and plenty of fluids will be enough for their bodies to fight it off. But if your fever doesn't go away or your symptoms become severe, seek medical attention, said Schaffner. It doesn't matter how young and healthy you were a few days ago. Flu complications can become serious and antiviral medications or hospitalization may be needed.

Seeking immediate medical attention is especially important if you develop a headache and severe stiffness in your neck as this might be a sign of bacterial meningitis, not the flu.

Bacterial meningitis starts out with flu-like symptoms such as fever and achiness, but quickly the patient will become seriously ill, will be so stiff as to be unable to put his/her chin to the chest, and will be difficult to rouse from sleep, Schaffner said.

Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, coma, and death when left untreated so any of these symptoms should not be ignored.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FDA Panel OKs Bird Flu Vaccine Stockpiling

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A vaccine for the H5N1 avian flu, or bird flu, has been approved by a panel of experts to be stockpiled for emergency use in case of a pandemic.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 14-0 in favor that the vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Quebec, was in compliance with licensing standards under accelerated approval regulations, reports MedPage Today.

H5N1 currently does not spread as easily among humans as it does among domestic foul, but flu experts have feared it could mutate and potentially lead to a pandemic. In infected humans, the virus is highly dangerous. The World Health Organization says since 2003, there have been 608 bird flu cases -- 359 of those cases resulted in death, according to MedPage.

Although the FDA isn't required to follow through with the advisory panel recommendations, it generally does, MedPage reports.

GSK, who has worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in developing the H5N1 vaccine, is hoping the agency will move forward on the panel's approval to stockpile the vaccine.

"We now look forward to a final decision by the FDA later this year and to also continuing our collaboration with the U.S. Government on public health issues," Glaxo VP of vaccine discovery and development, Bruce Innis said in a statement.

GSK says that in clinical trials, the most common side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site, swelling, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, joint pain, shivering and sweating.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


HPV Vaccination: Sooner Is Better, Study Says

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CINCINNATI) -- Vaccinating teenage girls against the human papillomavirus or HPV may be too little too late, according to a new study that found more than half of girls 13 and older already have the infection.

The three-dose vaccine, proven to slash the risk of HPV infection -- the number one risk factor for cervical cancer -- is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  But some doctors delay the shots, thinking pre-teens have a low risk for the sexually transmitted infection.

"It really is important for physicians to offer the vaccine as recommended to girls that are 11 and 12 years old," said Dr. Lea Widdice, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and lead author of the study, published Tuesday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.  "The vaccine is very safe and highly effective, but it works best if we can give it to girls and boys before they're sexually active."

Widdice and colleagues tested 259 young women aged 13 to 21 for HPV during clinic visits for their first vaccine doses.  Among 190 who were sexually active, 70 percent were already infected.

"The vaccine can only prevent the infection," said Widdice, warning that the vaccine cannot cure someone who's already HPV-positive.

Even girls who had sexual contact without intercourse were at risk, with 11 percent testing positive for the virus.

"HPV is different from other sexually transmitted infections in that it appears to be transmitted a lot more easily," said Widdice.  "Although it's most efficiently transmitted through sexual intercourse, it can definitely be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin touching."

The study adds to mounting evidence that early vaccination can curb HPV infection, which beyond cervical cancer is also linked to genital warts and cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and throat.

"It supports the recommendation that the HPV vaccine be given to girls when they're 11 and 12 years old," said Widdice.

The CDC also recommends the vaccine for boys and men aged 9 through 26.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Whooping Cough Vaccine Too Weak to Protect Against Disease?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(QUEENSLAND, Australia) -- The United States might see the highest number of cases of whooping cough in more than five decades this year, possibly caused by a weaker vaccine, many experts say.

The Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine for children has not been as effective in protecting against whooping cough as the older version that was available nearly two decades ago, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Almost 20,000 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, have been reported so far in the United States, compared to nearly 8,579 cases seen this time last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As many as 95 percent of whooping cough cases might result from the waning immunity of people who were initially vaccinated but have not gotten the booster vaccine, according to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

The original vaccine, which contained a small amount of inactivated whole bacteria, was a crude form that brought with it side effects like fever and swelling at the injection site, but it was considered lifelong lasting at preventing the disease. In the late 1990s, it was substituted for a so-called cleaner vaccine that only used small particles of the bacteria and was considered safer but might not be as effective long term.

"That makes getting the booster shot more important," Schaffner said.

The government recommends that children get vaccinated in five doses between ages 2 month to 6 years. Children around age 12 are recommended to receive a booster shot.

"Despite its efficacy, it looks that over time some of the protection does start to wane and decrease," said Dr. Charles Foster, staff physician in the Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.

Even the booster shot might not as effective in warding off whooping cough among older teens and adults, according to the CDC. In some cases, older teens who contracted the disease had received their booster, the agency told ABC News. Increasing rates have been seen in 13 to 14 year olds, who would have received their booster about two years prior.

"No vaccine is 100 percent effective," Foster said.

The body's immune response wanes over time. And if there's no exposure to this vaccine after a few years, then the protection might decrease, Foster said.

"But there's pretty good data that the vaccine is mostly effective in patients who have the full course of the vaccine," he said.

A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, the company that makes the vaccines, says the company has reviewed the number of cases of pertussis this year.

"We are not in a position at this time to draw specific conclusions from the data, but we anticipate working closely with the CDC and other public-health authorities to fully understand what factors may be contributing to the increased incidence of pertussis currently being seen in Washington and to a lesser extent in other states in the U.S.," the spokesman said in a written response to ABC News on behalf of the company.

In the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers in Queensland, Australia, looked at 58,000 children who either received series of shots with the old vaccine, a full series of the current vaccine, or a combination of both between 1999 and 2011. One-hundred twenty-three children who received the series of the current vaccine developed whooping cough compared with only 90 children who received the full series of the old vaccine. Those who received the combination of doses seemed to have the highest protection, the study found.

"The challenge for future pertussis vaccine development is to address the benefit-risk, trade-off highlighted by our study, and to develop vaccines that induce long-lasting protection from the first dose, without the adverse events associated with DTwP [old vaccine] use," the authors wrote.

Even with the study findings, some experts aren't convinced that a revival of the old vaccine or a new combination vaccine might be a better alternative.

"There are benefits and risks and you have to balance the two," said Foster, who cited weighing the risks between adverse events of the old vaccine against the waning immunity of the current.

Vaccines requiring a booster shot are no less effective than other kinds of vaccines, Foster said.

"The current vaccine is still effective and people need to make sure children are up to date in the series of vaccines and teens, adults, and pregnant women get the pertussis vaccine," he said. "Vaccination remains the best way to prevent pertussis."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pertussis Outbreak May Be Worst in 50 Years, CDC Says

Hemera/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Reported cases of pertussis are at their highest level in 50 years, a top official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  said Thursday, adding that outbreaks in several states should encourage all children and adults to get vaccinated.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said doctors across the nation have reported more than 18,000 cases of pertussis so far this year. That is more than twice as many cases as there were at this time in 2011 and the first time since 1959 that so many cases have been reported by this time in the year.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a bacterial infection involving the respiratory tract that is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. It can start out like the common cold, but can be a very serious infection, particularly for infants under the age of 1, who are too young to complete the full vaccination series.

While some doctors say that part of the surge in reported cases can be credited to better diagnostic tests and increased awareness, the casualties thus far underscore a very real problem. Nine infants have died from pertussis so far this year in the United States. The 13-to-14-year-old age group has been hit particularly hard. In Washington State, the number of cases this year has surpassed 3,000 -- already more than three times as many as all of last year. Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared a statewide pertussis epidemic on April 3.

The vaccine for pertussis, known as DTaP, should be given to all children as a series at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years, according to the CDC. An additional booster, known as TDaP, is needed at age 11-12.

"Unvaccinated kids are at eight times higher risk to getting pertussis compared to kids who have been vaccinated," said Schuchat. "Vaccinated kids who do develop pertussis have a milder course. They're also less infectious than unvaccinated children."

Health officials added that all adults who have not been vaccinated against pertussis should receive the TDaP vaccine, especially pregnant women and those who will have contact with babies. Pertussis outbreaks generally occur in peaks and waves. Even with vaccination, immunity tends to wane over time.

An estimated 84 percent of toddlers in the U.S. have received their complete course of vaccination. However, only eight percent of adults are currently vaccinated.

What's unusual is the fact that so many 13 and 14-year-olds are falling ill with the infection. The CDC is looking into whether this could be attributed to a change implemented in 1997 when the vaccine used to immunize children changed from a version that was taken off the market in the U.S. because of possible neurologic side effects.

The CDC is launching an investigation to find out what is contributing to the unusual features of this outbreak. Researchers are also looking at why the protection offered from the current vaccine is not complete.

Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic has had personal experience with pertussis, not only as a physician, but also as a father of a child who suffered through pertussis at the age of 13 despite being fully vaccinated.

"When I first heard my son cough, I knew he had pertussis," Poland said. "Even though I treated him immediately, the cough lasted for 100 days. He literally kept the family awake for months."

Dr. Len Horovitz, an infectious disease specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, is frustrated that despite the prevalence of media coverage, adults are not requesting the vaccine.

"How much relentless coverage and repetition of medical information [does it take] for the public to finally grasp an epidemic?" he asked. "People aren't listening, aren't watching or aren't paying attention."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


HPV Vaccine Protects Even Those Who Skip It

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CINCINNATI) -- The vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) is not only effective in decreasing the rate of high risk types of HPV infections in girls and women, but it also shows evidence of bestowing what is known as "herd immunity" -- an indirect protection against the virus for those who have not been vaccinated -- in a community at large, researchers said on Monday.

Researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center compared HPV infection rates in women who received the HPV vaccine to infection rates in those who had not.

What they found was that women who received the HPV vaccine cut their likelihood of having an HPV infection by 69 percent.  The surprise was that the likelihood of HPV infection among women in the same community who had not gotten their HPV shots also dropped -- by 49 percent.

"I was surprised at the decrease in the prevalence of HPV and the effectiveness of the vaccine in a real-world setting," said Dr. Jessica Kahn, lead author of the study, which appeared Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

But Kahn said that while the finding was encouraging, it should not deter parents from getting their children vaccinated.

"Although the study shows evidence of early herd immunity, the results cannot be generalized to imply you shouldn't get vaccinated," she said.  Kahn said it is "still very important... there is no way of knowing you are one of those protected unless you actually get the vaccine."

Other experts in infectious diseases agreed that the study demonstrates how important it is to get vaccinated.

"I think it is important to point out to potential vaccine recipients that herd immunity is routinely achieved when greater than 80 percent of the population has been vaccinated," said Robert Rose, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.  "Thus, it is incumbent upon immune-competent individuals to participate in the vaccine effort in order to protect those who are in one way or another immune-compromised."

HPV is responsible for the most common sexually transmitted infections.  There are more than 100 types of HPV, including more than 40 high-risk types of infection that are responsible for causing approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers, genital warts, vaginal and anal cancers and a growing number of head and neck cancers, especially in men.

Since these viruses have the ability to cause such widespread disease, current recommendations from the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices include vaccination against HPV for both males and females ages 9 to 26.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Vaccinations: Parents Put More Kids on ‘Shot-Limiting’ Schedules

Science Photo Library/Getty Images(SALEM, Ore.) -- More and more parents in Oregon are choosing alternative vaccination schedules for their children, a practice known as shot-limiting, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Experts say the practice puts children and those around them at greater risk for disease.

Researchers from the Oregon Health Authority found that the proportion of consistent shot-limiters in the area increased from 2.5 percent in 2006 to 9.5 percent of the population in 2009.

Although the study didn’t identify a specific reason for the numbers, the researchers said parents may delay or miss vaccinations because they don’t want their children to be in pain, or because they don’t want their kids to have too many shots all at once, or because they question whether vaccines are really necessary. The researchers said that delaying shots not only meant not getting vaccines on time, but that many shot-limiting children missed certain vaccines altogether.

“It’s easy for a baby on this alternative schedule to fall behind and not catch up,” said Steve Robison, the study’s lead author. “And we found that these children fell behind and stayed behind.”

Children typically get a lot of vaccines in the first years of life. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends more than two dozen shots from birth to age 6 to protect kids against 14 different diseases. Squeezing in all of those vaccines can mean that children get five or six shots in a single doctor’s visit.

But in the study, researchers found that 4,500 of nearly 98,000 children in Portland consistently had two or fewer shots per visit in their first nine months, even though those children went to the doctor’s office more often.

Although the study looked only at children in Portland, other research suggests that parents around the country favor delaying or skipping vaccines. But experts say the practice is risky.

“A delay in vaccinating your children increases the amount of time they are susceptible to a number of diseases,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. “This is a clear indication of where the anti-science movement is having an impact.”

Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said it may be easy for parents to misunderstand the risks posed if their children skip vaccinations for diseases that have been very rare for decades. But he said doctors have an obligation to emphasize the importance of immunization to all their patients.

“That first-line responder needs to be far more passionate about vaccines and what it means not to get them. It’s not a theoretical risk anymore,” he said.

But there has been a recent resurgence of certain diseases that could be prevented by vaccines, and doctors say it highlights the dangers of missing these shots. In May, Washington declared an outbreak of whooping cough or pertussis for the first time in decades. California declared an outbreak in 2010 after 9,000 people came down with the disease and 10 died from it. Several states have reported increasing cases of whooping cough, measles and mumps.

The study can’t say whether these outbreaks are linked to alternative vaccine schedules, and doesn’t indicate if more of the shot-limiters got sick.

Robison said it’s important for parents to understand that the immunization schedule should be followed for a child’s protection.

“There is a reason for the schedule: to get a number of these vaccinations in early when children are most vulnerable to these diseases,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FDA Approves Meningitis Vaccine for Infants

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday approved an infant vaccine that experts say will protect small children from two potentially fatal bacterial diseases.

Menhibrix, manufactured by the Belgium-based company GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, is said to prevent the potentially life-threatening Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib disease) and Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcal disease) from occurring in children who are particularly susceptible when under 2 years of age. The combination vaccine is to be administered to infants in four doses beginning as early as 6 weeks of age with the last dose being given as late as 18 months of age.  

The FDA says that without the vaccination, the Hib and meningococcal diseases are especially dangerous to children because their symptoms can be difficult to detect or distinguish from other common childhood illnesses. Additionally, Hib and meningococcal disease often progress quickly and can lead to long-term health conditions such as blindness, mental retardation or amputations.  The diseases can even be fatal in some cases.

These bacteria, the FDA says, can lead to sepsis once the bloodstream becomes infected.  Meningitis follows the bacteria's infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Common side effects of Menhibrix include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, irritability and fever, the FDA cautions.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Early Results Promising for Breast Cancer Vaccine

Comstock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- A vaccine may be able to keep an aggressive type of breast cancer from returning in women who have a history of the disease, according to early results of a new study. The vaccine still needs further research, but breast cancer experts say the results are promising.

Researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston developed a vaccine, called AE37, that trains the body's immune system to attack a common piece found on breast cancer tumors, a protein called HER2, which helps tumors grow.

"With this vaccine, we've educated the immune system to recognize this protein, HER2," said Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf, the lead investigator on the trial. "If some rogue tumor cell is floating around, it can recognize it and take care of it before it can settle into bone or other parts of the body."

About 25 percent of breast cancer cases have an overactive amount of the HER2 protein, called HER2-positive breast cancer. This form of breast cancer is usually more aggressive and harder to treat than other types. But most tumors usually have some level of the protein, even if the amount is not enough to be classified as HER2-positive.

Mittendorf said one of the most encouraging things about the vaccine is that it seemed to reduce the risk of recurrent breast cancer in women who had both high and low levels of HER2, a group that accounts for about 70 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Mittendorf and her team studied 201 patients who had a history of breast cancer but who were disease-free at the time, giving the vaccine to about half of them. Based on the early outcomes of patients in the trial, the researchers projected that breast cancer would come back for 10.3 percent of the women who got the vaccine compared with 18 percent of the women who had not been vaccinated. That translates to a 43-percent reduced risk of recurrent breast cancer.

The study's results will be presented next month at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Michele Zembo, 57, was one of the patients who got the vaccine. The pediatric orthopedic surgeon from New Orleans was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2010 and after a year of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation therapy and reconstructive surgery, she knew that her battle with breast cancer may not be over.

"That's just a reality of breast cancer. Somewhere down the line, there is that risk that it will come back," she said. "So you start wondering, what can I do to reduce my risk?"

She got regular exercise, changed her diet and even changed her high blood pressure medication when new evidence suggested beta blockers might reduce the risk of breast cancer. When her doctor told her about the clinical trial testing the AE37 vaccine, she did her research and decided to join the study.

Zembo said she experienced almost no side effects of the vaccine, just a minor rash and pain where the shots of the vaccine were injected. So far, Zembo said she is still free of breast cancer.

"I've tried to do everything that I can do to try to decrease my risk of recurrence. To me, this vaccine is one additional step, and a big step, that does that," Zembo said.

Breast cancer experts said the results of the study so far are promising, but they were cautiously optimistic. The number of patients in the study was relatively small, and they were monitored for less than a year. Women who have had breast cancer are at risk for recurrences for many years after their first diagnosis.

"We've seen a lot of treatments that have very early promise, but with follow-up studies just don't pan out, said Dr. Jay Brooks, chair of hematology and oncology at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. "But it's interesting and something I would love to use in my practice if it proved successful."

The study is ongoing, and Mittendorf said it should finish in the fall of 2012. She hopes to launch a larger trial for the vaccine after that.

Mittendorf said the vaccine isn't useful for treating patients with advanced forms of the disease and isn't intended to replace other forms of treatment but to work in conjunction with them to fight breast cancer.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Mandatory Vaccines Lead to Higher Immunization Levels

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- States that require immunizations for students entering middle school have significantly higher numbers of adolescents who actually get recommended vaccinations compared with states that simply require that parents be informed about the vaccinations, according to a new study.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices currently recommends pre-teens and teens receive the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, the vaccine against meningitis and the HPV vaccine.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) wanted to determine if state requirements and parental education had an impact on vaccination rates, so they analyzed data from 13- to 17-year-olds who participated in a national survey.

The vaccination coverage in states requiring immunization against meningitis was 71 percent compared with 53 percent in states with no requirements and 51 percent in states with education-only requirements.  The rate of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccination was 80 percent in states requiring the shot and 70 percent in states with no requirements.  There were no states reported that only required education about the tetanus vaccine.  There was no difference in vaccination rates for the HPV vaccine.

"The education finding was interesting.  I think that it didn't really have any effect," said Shannon Stokley, a co-author and researcher at NCIRD.  "That doesn't mean that education isn't working, but education materials may not be reaching its audience.  They may not be getting to parents."

This study comes just days after Washington State tapped into emergency funds to help get a whooping cough outbreak under control.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire freed up $90,000 of emergency money to ramp up vaccination awareness efforts.

"Pertussis is very serious, especially for babies.  It's vital that teens and adults are current on their immunizations because they're often the ones who give whooping cough to babies," state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement.

Oregon, Washington and Vermont all have high exemption rates, and all three states have had outbreaks of whooping cough.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio