August 1, 2014

Vaccine Film Prompts Adults to Teach Children the Wrong Life Lesson

When parents and teachers at a Southern California high school withheld a student-made film about vaccination out of concern for the social blowback, they voted for ignorance at the expense of science.

Carlsbad High has an award-winning broadcast journalist program that produced “Invisible Threat,” a documentary about “the science of disease and the risks facing a society that is under-vaccinated.” As the students and their advisors put the final touches on the film and prepared to release it, according the Los Angeles Times, “they found themselves cast as foot soldiers in a long-running immunization war between a small group of activists who argue that vaccines cause autism and the vast majority of physicians and scientists who say they don't.”

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ongoing effort to protect public health in the face of vocal, and often prominent, people who have no scientific basis for their ridiculous ideas, and who, by not vaccinating their children, put everyone at risk. (See our blog, “More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism.”

In Carlsbad, the anti-vaccine lobby charged that the students had been duped by deceitful advisors who had been paid off by the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines, and the criticism delayed the launch of the movie for months. In May, the parent-teacher association canceled an on-campus screening not because they didn’t believe it was a worthy film, but because they were afraid that anti-vaccine activists would show up.

In other words, they taught their kids that, even if you’re doing something right and righteous, if there’s a chance it will cause trouble, it’s best to relinquish your principles and sit quietly with your hands folded.

Nice lesson, eh?

The kids, to their credit, objected. "We're an extracurricular film club," Mark Huckaby told The Times. He narrated the film. "It's just not cool."

The filmmakers denied being pawns of anyone. And they had done some great journalism. Their area's historically high vaccination rate was starting to slip, and they knew there was a story there.

According to the California Department of Public Health, says The Times, the percentage of new kindergartners in San Diego County who seek exemptions from immunizations has increased from about 1 in 100 15 years ago to 4.5 in 100 last school year.

Measles and whooping cough, which had been in decline, were emerging anew, as in many other areas of the U.S.

The students read studies, interviewed medical experts who praised vaccines as well as parents who distrusted them and a local osteopath who treats autistic children.

Even Dr. Melinda Wharton, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization services division said they did a good job interpreting the scientific material.

Some of the students initially believed vaccines and autism were linked, they said, but they changed their minds as they researched. "It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy," said Allison DeGour, another of the students involved.

The final version of "Invisible Threat" took a strong pro-vaccine position. And although it still hasn’t been seen by the large numbers it deserves, the parent advisor who served as the film’s producer announced that the movie would go on the Web on Aug. 1, in conjunction with National Immunization Awareness Month.

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October 8, 2010

Regulators, science kit makers clash over possible ‘toxic’ paper clips

Science kits – and some of the items they contain, including paper clips used to show children how magnets work -- could require more stringent safety testing if the Consumer Product Safety Commission determines that the kits are “children’s products.” Science kit makers, meanwhile, argue that the items in the kits aren’t harmful to children and are everyday items found in homes and schools that don’t need to be tested when they are purchased separately.

The manufacturers asked for a testing exemption, but the CPSC would not grant a blanket waiver. In a 3-2 vote, CPSC approved a “guidance” that is supposed to help determine which products require testing under legislation passed by Congress two years ago that requires safety checks for items such as lead, chemicals and flammable materials.

After the vote, CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum said that “there is nothing in this rule that bans science kits.” The manufacturers, however, have threatened to cease supplying kits to elementary school children because of the testing requirement.

The approved document does not explicitly demand testing of the kits or their components. It does, however, indicate that how the kits are packaged and marketed (for example, whether they are intended for children 12 or under) could determine whether testing is required.

The science kit manufacturers say that a CPSC guidance subjects their products to a double standard – i.e. paper clips bought at an office supply store would not need to be tested, while those in the science kit would be. "They miraculously become a children's product when our clients pick those products up and put them in a science kit," a manufacturers’ representative said.

Two CPSC commissioners criticized the guidance. Anne Northup said the guidance should have carved out products that pose little or no risk. “We are not making reasonable decisions,” she said. Another commissioner, Nancy Nord, wrote on her blog that “it is crazy that the Hands-On Science Partnership needs to be concerned about doing lead tests on products purchased at an office supply store and then packaged into a science teaching kit for use with children. Even crazier is the fact that if a teacher buys the same paper clip at the same store and uses it for the same science teaching project, it's okay."

Consumer advocates, however, maintain the tests must be performed “to ensure that products for children are safe.”

Source: Associated Press

You can view the CPSC decision here on page 35.

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September 21, 2010

Child safety seat inspections: Get one free this Saturday

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for children ages 3 and older, and one contributing factor is that nearly 75% of child car seats aren’t installed or used properly.

As part of its continuing mission to correct this situation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Assocation (NHTSA) established Child Passenger Safety Week, an annual campaign to bring public attention to the importance of properly securing children in appropriate child safety seats, booster seats or seat belts at all times.

This year, Child Passenger Safety Week runs from September 19 to 25, culminating on September 25 with “National Seat Check Saturday," when certified child passenger safety technicians will provide free advice and hands-on child safety seat inspections across the U.S.

Currently, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws requiring that children be restrained in motor vehicles. According to the NHTSA, child restraints have saved a total of 8,959 lives over the past 30 years. And a recent NHTSA study indicated that in rollover crashes (which had the highest incidence rates of incapacitating injuries for children), the estimated incidence rate of incapacitating injuries among unrestrained children was almost three times that for restrained children. In near-side impacts, unrestrained children were eight times more likely to sustain incapacitating injuries than children restrained in child safety seats.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

Find out where to get your child’s safety seat or booster seat inspected here.

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July 29, 2009

Heavy Backpacks Cause Lower Back Pains for Children

Consumer Reports recently conducted a survey in rating the most durable backpacks, and found in the survey that an average 6th grader carries a backpack weighing 18.4 pounds, but some are as heavy as 30 pounds, according to Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times.

A medical adviser to Consumer Reports and also a board-certified neurologist, Dr. Orly Avitzur says that carrying a heavy backpack can cause low-back pain in children, and carrying the backpack on one shoulder instead of two exacerbates the problem.

Parents can consult some suggestions provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics about how to choose the best-fitting backpack and how to prevent injuries. Consumer Reports has also published its full report and buying guide.

Some of the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines include the following:

- Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder may increase curvature of the spine.

- Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.

- Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's total body weight.

- Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.

- Stop often at school lockers, if possible. Do not carry all of the books needed for the day.

- Bend using both knees, when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.

- Learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.

- Ask your pediatrician for advice.

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December 19, 2008

Parents Fight to Help Diabetic Children Manage The Disease In Schools

Before Kari Christiansen retained a lawyer and threatened to sue the primary school her diabetic son attends, Carter Christiansen, a second-grader, could not bring his medical supplies to school and once fell unconscious in the school hallway. In another school district, 17-year-old Jennifer Schwartz had her insulin pump snatched away – when the needle and tubing were still inserted in her body – by an unwitting teacher who thought the beeping device was a cell phone.

In a Chicago Tribune article, Carolyn Starks reports the difficulties that many diabetic schoolchildren face in managing their disease in schools. Parents are fighting for accommodations and policy changes to help young children with diabetes, which affects one in every 500 people under age 20, according to the article.

In many school districts, glucometers and other supplies that diabetic children need to use several times throughout the day are banned from school zones, or, in cases where they are allowed in schools, have to be locked away in nurses' cabinets. The needles in these devices, which are the smallest needles in the world – are thought to be dangerous.

To help diabetic students manage the disease at school, physicians and lawyers have joined force with parents to make these children’s need known. Dr. Patrick Zeller, endocrinologist, and Ed Kraus, associate professor at Chicago-Kent School of Law, are among such advocates for diabetic children.

Parents should feel comfortable about communicating to teachers and other school workers about their children’s needs. Dr. Zeller said that schools “want to do a good job” and that they are willing to help the students when they are educated about the disease. Jean Sophie, the new superintendent in Carter Christiansen’s school district, was eager to accommodate the Christiansens’ requests because she personally knows children who are diabetic. Teachers will likely be willing to make special arrangements, if notified by parents of diabetic students, such as allowing the kids to bring snacks into classroom in case of low blood sugar.

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August 16, 2008

Teen Injuries in Auto Accidents: Sense of Invincibility May Cause Car Crashes

The most recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons has a study on teenagers' attitudes to trauma-related injuries from car crashes, showing that most of them have a "sense of invincibility and focus on fate rather than choice."

These attitudes are dangerous because, while everyone knows about the impact of drugs and alcohol on people's behavior, false beliefs can often be just as harmful as drinking too much. From the article:

researchers say existing injury prevention initiatives often fall short of countering flawed beliefs and must better demonstrate - especially to teens - how and why their young age puts them at greater risk for injury.

"Students need to comprehend that it is lack of judgment, not only lack of skill, that increases the risk of injury to one's self and others. 'Not wanting something bad to happen' is simply not enough," said Najma Ahmed, MD, PhD, FACS, assistant trauma director, St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto. "In addition to giving teens the knowledge and teaching them the technical skills, injury prevention programs must also address teens' attitudes about being immune to illness and death as a means of changing high-risk behaviors, such as driving while impaired."

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