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Advances in vaccine delivery and efficacy were discussed at the 44th National Immunization Conference sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A research study by each of the four directors from the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children's Hospital was presented. Held in Atlanta, more than 1,600 health professionals and medical experts attended the conference and explored innovative strategies for developing programs, policy and research to promote immunizations.
"We're proud of the body of research that the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research was able to share at the National Immunization Conference," said Dr. Carol J. Baker, center executive director and chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Our research studies on attitudes toward vaccinations, rotavirus prevention, cocooning to prevent pertussis and school-based immunization programs have provided the scientific community with valuable data that we can use in educating parents about immunizations."
Along with Baker, the center's three additional directors who had findings from their specialty area presented at the conference are: Drs. Julie A. Boom, director of Infant and Childhood Immunization; C. Mary Healy, director of Vaccinology and Maternal Immunization; and Amy B. Middleman, director of Adolescent and Young Adult Immunization.
Working with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, Baker utilized a national telephone survey to identify parental barriers to immunization. She found that childhood influenza immunization rates remained significantly low. Survey results of 500 mothers living with children ages six months to 18 revealed that many moms hold "magical" or "wishful" beliefs about immunization against flu, stating that it is unnecessary. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said that healthy children don't need to be vaccinated and over half of the mothers agreed that other ways to avoid influenza are just as effective as immunizations. The study also showed that when the pediatrician left the decision up to the parent, over half decided not to immunize their child. Based on these results, Baker recommended that future communications strategies implement a multi-pronged messaging approach targeted to parents that directly addresses each barrier identified.
The effectiveness of the rotavirus vaccine was the subject of findings presented by Boom. Using a case-control assessment of age-eligible children for a five month period in 2008, and again for a six month period in 2009, Boom's research proved that the pentavalent vaccine sustained protection against severe rotavirus disease in children until they turn two years old. While the effectiveness of the vaccine was known for the first year, this study remains one of few that verifies the drug's effectiveness in older children.
Protecting infants from infectious disease was also addressed by Healy's study, which provided detailed results of one of the nation's first cocoon strategy vaccination programs. Recommended by the CDC, the cocoon strategy involves vaccinating the immediate family members of newborns against pertussis (whooping cough) to surround the infant with a "cocoon" of people who can not spread the infection. The program has administered more than 10,000 immunizations. More than 90 percent of all mothers at the hospital and at least one other family member in 60 percent of families offered the vaccine were vaccinated. Among families who received the vaccine, 99 percent did so before the baby was one week old. As pertussis outbreaks continue to occur periodically in the U.S., Healy has been contacted by medical professionals from around the country seeking information on how to develop a similar program.
Middleman's research focused on school-based immunization for adolescents, proving that parental preferences don't always predict parental behavior. Middleman surveyed nearly 500 parents in the fall of 2008 to determine the relationship between attitudes of middle school parents regarding school-based immunization and behaviors when a school-based program became available. Respondents were primarily Hispanic parents of middle school children in low-income-urban areas. Sixty percent consented to their child been vaccinated at school even though 43 percent had previously responded that they did not prefer school-based programs and 33 percent stated that they wanted to be present for their child's immunization.