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Frontline ‘Vaccine War’ Live Chat; Wednesday 3/25, Noon PT

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Frontline aired an updated version of its 2008 documentary The Vaccine War on Tuesday night. The film dives deep into the debate over vaccines. While the overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their children, a small but growing minority either under-vaccinate their children or refuse vaccines altogether.

The debate has taken a new turn in the wake of the measles outbreak which started in Disneyland in December. Public health officials believe a still-unknown person infected with measles visited the park and spread it to others. As the outbreak took hold, a new front in the debate grew: that of people who are immune-compromised.

State of Health first told the story of Carl Krawitt the father of 7-year-old Rhett who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was two and a half. Because of the treatments Rhett underwent to fight his disease, prior vaccine protection was wiped out, and he had to wait until he had been in remission for a year before his vaccines could begin again. The Krawitt family has been arguing that those unvaccinated by choice should not be able to attend public school.

Frontline producers told the story of Rhett’s family in The Vaccine War.

Now, it’s your turn. On Wednesday (March 25) at noon PT, Frontline is hosting a live chat, and I’m honored to be the moderator. ‘Vaccine War’ producer and director Kate McMahon will take your questions, along with Carl Krawitt, and Dr. Arthur Reingold, Head of Epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Feel free to leave a question now and please join us at noon for the chat!

Why Insulin Is So Expensive in the U.S.

A nurse in 1938 checks the amount of insulin in a needle. For many decades, the only insulin available to people with diabetes came from the pancreases of cattle or pigs. Insulin from animals is still available outside the U.S. — and cheaper than a recombinant DNA version. (Bettmann/Corbis)

A nurse in 1938 checks the amount of insulin in a needle. For many decades, the only insulin available to people with diabetes came from the pancreases of cattle or pigs. Insulin from animals is still available outside the U.S. — and cheaper than a recombinant DNA version. (Bettmann/Corbis)

By Anders Kelto, NPR

Dr. Jeremy Greene sees a lot of patients with diabetes that’s out of control.

More than 90 years after insulin was developed, there are no low-cost options available today.

In fact, he says, sometimes their blood sugar is “so high that you can’t even record the number on their glucometer.”

Greene, a professor of medicine and history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, started asking patients at his clinic in Baltimore why they had so much trouble keeping their blood sugar stable. He was shocked by their answer: the high cost of insulin.

Greene decided to call some local pharmacies, to ask about low-cost options. He was told no such options existed. Continue reading

Will the HIV-Prevention Pill Protect Teens or Encourage Risky Behavior?

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Rafael Johns, Youth Radio via NPR

Leon Richardson is 18 years old and tall, charismatic and thoughtful about his sexual health.

He understands that as a young, gay black man, he is in the demographic with the highest rate of HIV infections in the country. But when Richardson learned that he could be part of an HIV prevention pill research study for young people, he was skeptical.

“I was scared. I had to really think about it, ‘What is this drug going to do to me?’ ” he says.

The regimen, called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 85 percent when a pill called Truvada is taken daily. In a first, the Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada for prevention of the infection in 2012. Truvada had been used previously to treat HIV infection. Continue reading

Industry Reaction to ‘Sugar Papers’ Mirrors Tobacco in 1990s

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The sugar industry worked to steer federal health research, a report released Monday revealed.

As State of Health reported, newly uncovered industry documents dating to the1960s showed that the sugar industry influenced the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, away from looking at research to determine strategies to encourage people to eat less sugar.

“What this shows is that sugar interests were running science manipulation in as sophisticated a manner as ‘big tobacco’ was back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said UCSF Professor Stan Glantz, a co-author of the study and longtime anti-tobacco advocate. Continue reading

‘Sugar Papers’ Show Industry’s Influence in 1970s Dental Program, Study Says

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Hundreds of pages of newly-found documents show that the sugar industry worked closely with the federal government in the late 1960s and early 1970s to determine a research agenda to prevent cavities in children, researchers who analyzed the documents say.

“The sugar industry … is following the tobacco industry’s playbook.”
In the analysis, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that industry influence starting in the late 1960s helped steer the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, away from addressing the question of determining a safe level of sugar.

“What this paper has shown is that our (NIH) was working toward potentially answering that question,” said Cristin Kearns, a fellow at UC San Francisco and lead author of the analysis, “and the sugar industry derailed them from doing the research to help to answer that question, so we’re still debating (it) here in 2015.” Continue reading

Beyond Abolishing the ‘Personal Belief Exemption’ To Raise Vaccination Rates

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On Wednesday in Sacramento, a MoveOn.org member is expected to deliver a petition with 21,000 signatures calling on the state’s government to abolish the personal belief exemption.

“Focusing on the parental-choice issue risks provoking a counter-productive backlash.”

She will be holding a press conference with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who announced a bill earlier this month to do just that. When he made the announcement, Pan repeatedly spoke of wanting to increase vaccination rates.

It sounds so good: Just wipe out the option to refuse vaccines, and vaccination rates will improve.

But is abolishing the personal belief exemption — a choice that permits parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated — the best way to accomplish that goal? Continue reading

Is Your Dishwasher Increasing Your Child’s Allergy Risk?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Rob Stein, NPR

Could using a dishwashing machine increase the chances your child will develop allergies? That’s what some provocative new research suggests — but don’t rip out your machine just yet.

The study involved 1,029 Swedish children (ages 7 or 8) and found that those whose parents said they mostly wash the family’s dishes by hand were significantly less likely to develop eczema, and somewhat less likely to develop allergic asthma and hay fever.

“I think it is very interesting that with a very common lifestyle factor like dishwashing, we could see effects on allergy development,” says Dr. Bill Hesselmar of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, who led the study. Continue reading

Getting Vaccinated Against Measles: What You Need to Know

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Liza Gross

The measles outbreak that started in December has sickened 141 people in 17 states. California has the most cases by far: 113 as of last Friday with about half traced to Disneyland.

State health officials are urging anyone who is not immunized against measles to get vaccinated. To help people figure out whether they need to get vaccinated against measles or other diseases, I spoke with Dr. Roger Baxter, who co-directs Kaiser Permanente’s Vaccine Study Center in Oakland.

First up, children. The Centers for Disease Control recommends two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine as follows:

  • First dose at 12-15 months
  • Second dose at 4-6 years

I asked Dr. Baxter, why is a second shot needed? Continue reading

New Vaccination Bill Would End ‘Personal Belief Exemption’

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Fenit Nirappil
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers are proposing legislation that would require parents to vaccinate all school children unless a child’s health is in danger, joining only two other states with such stringent restrictions.

Parents could no longer cite personal beliefs or religious reasons to send unvaccinated children to school under a proposal introduced Wednesday after dozens of people have fallen ill from a measles outbreak that started in late December at Disneyland.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states with such strict vaccine rules, though the California bill’s chief author said he would consider including a religious exemption, as allowed now. Continue reading

Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left). (Courtesy of Juniper Russo)

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left).
(Courtesy of Juniper Russo)

By Jon Hamilton, NPR

The ongoing measles outbreak linked to Disneyland has led to some harsh comments about parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. But Juniper Russo, a writer in Chattanooga, Tenn., says she understands those parents because she used to be one of them.

“I know what it’s like to be scared and just want to protect your children, and make the wrong decisions,” Russo says.

When her daughter Vivian was born, “I was really adamant that she not get vaccines,” Russo says. “I thought that she was going to be safe without them and they would unnecessarily introduce chemicals into her body that could hurt her.”

That’s a view shared by many parents who choose not to vaccinate. And in Russo’s case, it was reinforced by parents she met online. Continue reading