Tag: delaying vaccines

Why Are Vaccine Schedules Different in Each Country?

Anti-vaccine folks often point in differences in the immunization schedules in various countries to try and make a case that some countries do things better than others.

Is that true?

Why Are Vaccine Schedules Different in Each Country?

The ACIP and CDC set the immunization schedule in the United States, but it shouldn’t be surprising that other countries have their own systems to set their schedules.

Each country vaccinates according to their own needs, so none of their schedules are wrong, even though they are all a little different.
Each country vaccinates according to their own needs, so none of their schedules are wrong, even though they are all a little different.

And no, just because they are all a little different, that doesn’t mean that any are wrong.

That’s easy to understand once you do just a little research on how these immunization schedules are set up.

The WHO immunization schedule.
The WHO immunization schedule.

The WHO immunization schedule is set by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization.

WHO vaccine position paper development is "a complex, rigorous, multifaceted process."
WHO vaccine position paper development is “a complex, rigorous, multifaceted process.”

It’s basically a summary of WHO position papers.

The WHO recommendations help other countries develop optimal immunization schedules.

The Communicable Diseases Act in Sweden regulates the 13 factors that the Public Health Agency of Sweden must account for when proposing changes in the national vaccination programme to the Government.
The Communicable Diseases Act in Sweden regulates the 13 factors that the Public Health Agency of Sweden must account for when proposing changes in the national vaccination programme to the Government. 

Many countries also have their own National Immunization Technical Advisory Group that sets their immunization schedule.

So their immunization schedule is right for their country, even if it doesn’t match the United States schedule.

Australia’s Vaccine Schedule

In Australia, for example, the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule is set by National Immunisation Committee (NIC), which reports to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) through the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA).

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) also provides technical advice on the operation of the National Immunisation Program.

Combination vaccines mean infants in Australia get fewer shots, but the same number of vaccines.
Combination vaccines mean infants in Australia get fewer shots, but the same number of vaccines.

Notice any differences between Australia’s vaccine schedule and the US schedule?

  • they give the routine second dose of MMR earlier, at 18 months
  • they don’t give a second dose of the chickenpox vaccine
  • they give the routine first dose of the meningococcal vaccine earlier, at 12 months
  • the hepatitis A and flu vaccines are only given to high risk kids

While there are some minor differences, it is fairly similar to the US immunization schedule.

“There is a legislative requirement for all vaccines provided under the NIP or the PBS to undergo a thorough and objective assessment process.”

National Immunisation Strategy for Australia

Why the earlier dose of meningococcal vaccine?

This is a good example of why immunization schedules vary between countries.

“The notification rate for meningococcal disease to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System peaked at 4.3 per 100 000 in 2002 and declined to 0.4 per 100 000 in 2013.”

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease incidence rates in the United States were much lower, about 0.6 per 100,000, when they started giving meningococcal vaccines in Australia (2001).

The UK Vaccine Schedule

But aren’t the immunization schedules from other countries supposed to be a lot different from the US schedule?

Let’s look at another…

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises UK health departments on immunisation.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises UK health departments on immunisation.

It’s not the easiest schedule to read, but you should notice that vaccines for hepatitis A and chickenpox are missing, but younger children get extra meningococcal shots.

You may also have noticed yet another dosage schedule for the Prevnar 13 vaccine.

While the United States gives a three dose primary series and a booster, many other countries give either a three dose primary series alone or a two dose primary series with a booster.

“A large and growing body of evidence from immunogenicity studies, as well as clinical trials and observational studies of carriage, pneumonia and invasive disease, has been systematically reviewed; these data indicate that schedules of 3 or 4 doses all work well, and that the differences between these regimens are subtle, especially in a mature program in which coverage is high and indirect (herd) effects help enhance protection provided directly by a vaccine schedule.”

Whitney et al on Dosing schedules for pneumococcal conjugate vaccine: considerations for policy makers.

That doesn’t mean that they are all guessing at the dose! All of these schedules are well studied and in this case, there isn’t much difference.

There are even studies that suggest giving only one primary dose, combined with one booster dose might work, but only in areas where pneumococcal disease is already well controlled and infants would be protected by indirect herd immunity.

But that doesn’t mean that other schedules would work just as well too. For example, giving the doses later or on a slower schedule would not be better.

Why not?

Infants are most at risk for many of these diseases, especially Hib and pneumococcal disease, when they are young and delaying when infants get vaccinated simply leaves them unprotected and at risk to get sick for a longer period of time. You also want infants to be protected by the time they lose the passive protection they get from their maternal antibodies.

What about the chickenpox vaccine?

Will the UK get the chickenpox vaccine soon?

While the UK has not added the chickenpox vaccine to their schedule because their models predicted an increase in cases of shingles (which has happened anyway) with a decrease in exogenous boosting (the theory that exposure to chickenpox lowers your risk of shingles), they are now looking at this again.

“This study confirms that severe complications of varicella, including death, continue to occur in the UK and Ireland.”

Cameron et al on Severe complications of chickenpox in hospitalised children in the UK and Ireland

Mostly it has been said that the chickenpox vaccine isn’t on the schedule because they have not thought it to be cost effective.

Iceland’s Vaccine Schedule

When anti-vaccine folks talk about immunization schedules from other countries, they aren’t usually talking about the UK or Australia though.

They are talking about Iceland, the country that they believe gives far fewer vaccines than the United States.

You thought they gave even fewer vaccines in Iceland, didn't you?
You thought they gave even fewer vaccines in Iceland, didn’t you?

Vaccines for flu, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B and also available for those who are considered high risk.

Extra vaccines are available for high risk kids.

Want to follow Iceland’s immunization schedule?

Then you should move to Iceland.

Hopefully you are starting to see that immunization schedules are different in each country because each country has different rates of disease, different populations, and different healthcare systems.

Iceland is a small country (338,349 people), with high vaccination rates, and universal health care. Compare that to the United States, with 327,200,000 people, clusters of unvaccinated people, and lots of people without health care.

It should be easy to see that what works in one country might not work in the other…

Vaccine Schedule Comparison by Country

What about other countries?

Austria’s immunization schedule for 2019 includes all of the same vaccines as the US schedule, plus the vaccine for Japanese encephalitis (if high risk).
Austria’s immunization schedule for 2019 includes all of the same vaccines as the US schedule, plus the vaccine for Japanese encephalitis (if high risk).

On the immunization schedule in Austria, the columns in red are for vaccines that are recommended and free. The blue columns are also recommended, but they aren’t free.

The chickenpox vaccine was just added to Japan's routine vaccine schedule, but they still don't give the combined MMR vaccine. They do still have autistic kids, so does that finally prove that the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism?
The chickenpox vaccine was just added to Japan’s routine vaccine schedule, but they still don’t give the combined MMR vaccine. They do still have autistic kids, so does that finally prove that the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism?

Japan has two separate schedules – the routine schedule for everyone (in dark blue above) and the voluntary schedule, with extra vaccines. Note that the primary series of infant vaccines are given at 2, 3, and 4 months.

The latest vaccine schedule in Germany.
The latest vaccine schedule in Germany.

Germany also gives their primary series of infant vaccines at 2, 3, and 4 months.

In contrast to the 16 diseases that kids in the US are vaccinated against, Sweden uses vaccines for just 9.
In contrast to the 16 diseases that kids in the US are vaccinated against, Sweden uses vaccines for just 9.

Sweden is the other country that anti-vaccine folks like to talk about a lot. Mostly because they think that Sweden recently banned mandatory vaccination. They didn’t.

And note that kids in Sweden can get vaccinated at school!

The Norwegian immunization program makes heavy use of combination vaccines.
The Norwegian immunization program makes heavy use of combination vaccines.

Norway is studying adding chickenpox and Shingles vaccines to their schedule.

Switzerland now offers a few optional vaccines for folks who want them, including the meningococcal vaccine, HPV vaccines for boys, and the shingles vaccine for seniors.
Switzerland now offers a few optional vaccines for folks who want them, including the meningococcal vaccine, HPV vaccines for boys, and the shingles vaccine for seniors.

Although they only use a two dose primary series, Switzerland gives many of the same vaccines as the United States.

The 2018 vaccination schedule in the Netherlands. New additions in 2020 will be the rotavirus vaccine or high risk infants, Tdap in pregnancy, and MenACWY for teens.
The 2018 vaccination schedule in the Netherlands. New additions in 2020 will be the rotavirus vaccine or high risk infants, Tdap in pregnancy, and MenACWY for teens.

Are you surprised to see that infants in Denmark get more vaccines before they turn 12 month old than infants in the United States and an extra set by four months?

While most vaccines are free, you can pay extra to get vaccines that are already on the United States schedule in most other countries.
While most vaccines are free, you can pay extra to get vaccines that are already on the United States schedule in most other countries.

Even if they aren’t routine in other countries, all of the same vaccines that are offered in the United States, including vaccines to protect kids against rotavirus, chickenpox, and hepatitis A, are available in most other countries.

Vaccination schedule for children and adolescents in Israel.
Vaccination schedule for children and adolescents in Israel.

The latest immunization schedule in Israel includes hepatitis B, DTaP, polio, pneumococcal, rotavirus, MMR, chickenpox, HPV, and flu vaccines.

The 2019 Immunization Schedule for South Korea includes almost all of the US vaccines, plus BCG and Japanese encephalitis vaccines.
The 2019 Immunization Schedule for South Korea includes almost all of the US vaccines, plus BCG and Japanese encephalitis vaccines.

What’s missing in South Korea’s immunization schedule? Meningococcal vaccines. But they do have some that we don’t give in the United States.

What don’t these different immunization schedules influence? Prevalence rates of autism, SIDS, and other things that scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

The One Wrong Way to Give Vaccines

Since the immunization schedules from all of these countries are just a little bit different, does that support the idea that an individualized approach to vaccinating kids is a good idea?

There is no science and nothing that says altering any vaccine schedule is a safer or more effective way to do things.
There is no science and nothing that says altering any vaccine schedule is a safer or more effective way to do things.

Of course not!

"Later and slower" is not part of any immunization plan.
“Later and slower” is not part of any immunization plan.

In many countries, even if they are missing protection against a few diseases that we routinely vaccinate against in the United States, many get their vaccines earlier! And all start by three months and don’t split up the schedule to just give one or two vaccines at a time.

Everyone knows that later and slower just leaves kids unprotected for longer periods of time. More risks. No extra benefits.

More on Vaccine Schedules Around the World

How is the Immunization Schedule Developed?

For some reason, there still seems to be a lot of confusion out there about just how the immunization schedule is developed.

Jay Gordon wonders about the research used to set the current immunization schedule...
ICYMI – Jay Gordon was Jenny McCarthy‘s pediatrician.

Who decides which vaccines we give and get?

How do they make that decision?

History of Immunization Schedule Development

While the current immunization schedule is developed by the CDC based on recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), that’s not how it was always done.

It has just been since 1995 that we have had this single, simple vaccine schedule and format.

The first unified immunization schedule was developed in 1995.
The first unified immunization schedule was developed in 1995.

Before that, we had separate vaccine schedules from the:

Even earlier, we had recommendations and schedules from

  • WHO Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI)
  • AAP’s Special Committee on Prophylactic Procedures Against Communicable Diseases – from its start in the early 1930s, it evolved into today’s Committee on Control of Infectious Diseases
  • American Public Health Association Subcommittee on Communicable Disease Control

Differences in those schedules, which could lead to confusion, lead experts to create a simpler, unified schedule.

Well, at least in the United States. Of course, other countries still set their own schedules…

The Science Behind Setting the Immunization Schedule

Now that you know who sets the immunization, you are probably wondering how they set the immunization schedule.

To truly understand how the immunization schedule gets set up, it is best to go to an ACIP meeting when they make those decisions.

Can’t make it to Atlanta for one of the ACIP meetings?

You can watch them online!

Thoughtful discussions on setting the immunization schedule at ACIP.
Thoughtful discussions on setting the immunization schedule at ACIP.

Past ACIP meetings, agendas, minutes, slides, and videos, are archived online too.

Reading the minutes from the third meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on November 19-20, 1964 shows how they work, looking at data to make decisions about our vaccines and set the immunization schedule.
Reading the minutes from the third meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on November 19-20, 1964 shows how they work, looking at data to make decisions about our vaccines and set the immunization schedule.

Review them and you will get a very good idea of how the immunization schedule gets set up.

The first flu vaccine was developed in 1945.

ACIP basically told folks to go back to the drawing board and make a better flu vaccine at this 1966 meeting.
ACIP basically told folks to go back to the drawing board and make a better flu vaccine at this 1966 meeting.

Did you ever wonder why it took so long to get it on the immunization schedule?

Why was the primary series of polio vaccines made up of three doses?

At the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting on May 24-26, 1967 they discussed polio vaccine scheduling.
At the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting on May 24-26, 1967 they discussed polio vaccine scheduling.

Hopefully you are starting to understand how this works…

And no, all of this work doesn’t get done over a couple of days a few times a year. ACIP members belong to workgroups which focus on specific vaccines and they gather, analyze, and prepare information and research about those vaccines throughout the year.

It is at the ACIP meetings where the workgroup findings are presented.

“Development of vaccine schedules is based on a large body of basic sciences and epidemiologic research. There is constant review of evidence, adverse events, and epidemiology by a panel of experts.”

Shetty et al on Rationale for the Immunization Schedule: Why Is It the Way It Is?

And yes, among that body of research are studies of vaccines tested together, vaccines tested with placebos, vaccines tested vs unvaccinated kids, vaccines tested for long periods of time, and studies looking at risk factors to make sure vaccines don’t cause long-term health problems.

It’s a very thorough process!

And that’s why the great majority of folks understand that following the immunization schedule is the best way to keep their kids protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

What’s not safe? What hasn’t been well studied?

Following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule.

Thinking that an individualized approach is better doesn't trump the 55 years of ACIP meetings that went into setting the current immunization schedule...
Thinking that an individualized approach is better doesn’t trump the 55 years of ACIP meetings that went into setting the current immunization schedule…

Studies have actually shown that delaying or skipping vaccines offers no benefits and actually puts kids at extra risk.

It puts the rest of us at risk too.

More on Setting the Immunization Schedule

We Know What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

It’s no surprise.

If we stop vaccinating, diseases that are now vaccine preventable will come back.

How do we know?

Because it has happened already.

We Know What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

It has happened a lot, actually.

Remember when Sweden stopped using the DPT vaccine?

Between 1979 and 1996, Sweden suspended vaccination against pertussis because of concerns about the DPT vaccine.

Justus Ström‘s data was wrong…

And what happened?

“In 1979, the Swedish medical society abandoned whole-cell pertussis vaccine and decided to wait for a new, safer, more effective vaccine – a strategy that was soon adopted as national policy. During 1980-83, annual incidence for children aged 0–4 years increased to 3370 per 100000, with rates of serious complications approaching global rates. In subsequent years, Sweden reported more than 10000 cases annually with an incidence exceeding 100 per 100000, comparable to rates reported in some developing countries.”

Ganarosa et al on Impact of anti-vaccine movements on pertussis control: the untold story.

Pertussis came back.

In fact, endemic pertussis came back.

“Our evaluation of pertussis in the unimmunized child population gave an answer to the question of whether pertussis nowadays is a harmless disease which does not demand general vaccination. The present situation regarding pertussis in Sweden and the low efficacy of the antimicrobial treatment indicate an urgent need to prevent the disease by general vaccination as soon as a safe and effective vaccine is available.”

Romanus et al on Pertussis in Sweden after the cessation of general immunization in 1979.

Of course, they already had a safe and effective vaccine at the time. All of the claims against the whole cell pertussis vaccine ended up being untrue.

The same thing happened when Japan stopped using the MMR vaccine.

“Due directly to these gaps in ‘herd’ immunization resulting from politicized transitions in vaccination policy by the government, there were outbreaks of rubella with 17,050 cases reported between the years of 2012 and 2014, and 45 cases of congenital rubella syndrome reported to the National Epidemiological Surveillance of Infectious Diseases from week 1, 2012 to week 40, 2014.”

Yusuke Tanaka on History repeats itself in Japan: Failure to learn from rubella epidemic leads to failure to provide the HPV vaccine

What happened in Ukraine when immunization rates dropped in the 1990s? There were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

Remember the measles outbreaks that spread across Europe in 2010 to 11, leading to about 30,000 cases of measles each year, and at least 28 deaths?

That should have been enough to warn folks, but it didn’t.

Things are much worse now, with over 120 measles deaths in Europe over the past few years.

More recently, in Venezuela, shortages of most things have led to ongoing epidemics of measles and diphtheria, a “potential for reemergence of poliomyelitis,” and a risk to neighboring countries.

“Officials say the low coverage rate and widespread transmission of the virus is due to many factors, including transport costs for those in rural areas, a high number of people with weakened immune systems, such people living with HIV and tuberculosis – and vaccine refusal.”

Ukraine: Red Cross deployed to help contain largest measles outbreak in Europe in four years

And once again, there are measles outbreaks in Ukraine. This time, they have spread to many other countries, fueling outbreaks in Israel and the United States.

We know what happens if we stop vaccinating. Get vaccinated and stop the outbreaks.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are very obviously necessary.

More on What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

How Often Should You Do Vaccine Titer Testing?

We sometimes hear about folks doing vaccine titer testing.

A vaccine titer is a blood test that can determine whether or not you are immune to a disease after you get a vaccine.

While that sounds good, after all, why not check and be sure, it has downsides. Chief among them is that the results aren’t always accurate.

That’s right. You can sometimes have a negative titer test, but still be immune because of memory B cells and the anamnestic response.

How Often Should You Do Vaccine Titer Testing?

So how often should you do vaccine titer testing?

It depends, but most folks might never have it done!

Why not?

Vaccines work very well, so you would typically not need to routinely check and confirm that you are immune after being vaccinated. And, this is also important, the vaccine titer tests don’t always work that well, titer testing isn’t available for all vaccines (you can’t do titer testing for Hib and pertussis), and the testing can be expensive.

So we usually just do the testing (a quantitative titer) for folks that are in high risk situations, including:

  • pregnancy – rubella titer only (HBsAg is also done, but that’s not a vaccine titer test, but rather to see if you are chronically infected with hepatitis B)
  • healthcare workers – anti-HBs (antibody to the hepatitis B surface antigen to confirm immunity after being vaccinated)
  • students in nursing school and medical school, etc. – anti-HBs
  • children and adults exposed in an outbreakmeasles, chicken pox, mumps, etc., but only if we are unsure if they were previously vaccinated and protected
  • after a needlestick injury, etc. – to confirm immunity to hepatitis B
  • babies born to a mother with hepatitis B – to confirm that their hepatitis B vaccine worked

Vaccine titer testing might also be done for:

  • internationally adopted children – to confirm that they are immune if we unsure about all of the vaccines the child got in other countries
  • children and adults with lost vaccine records – to confirm that they are immune, since we are unsure about all of the vaccines they got
  • evaluation of children and adults with immune system problems – to help identify what immune system problems they might have – typically involves checking pneumococcal titers, giving Prevnar, and then checking pneumococcal titers again
  • people at continuous or frequent risk for rabies – rabies titer testing every 6 months to 2 years
  • patients with inflammatory bowel disease, before starting immunosuppressive therapy – hepatitis A and hepatitis B titers, as they might be at increased risk for hepatitis

While checking titers is easy, it is sometimes harder to know what to do with the results you get.

Of all of these different titers, only one tells you that you are immune due to vaccination.
Of all of these different titers, only one tells you that you are immune due to vaccination.

It is especially important to know that:

  • most people don’t need to have their titers checked routinely if they are not in one of the high-risk groups noted above
  • it isn’t practical to get titers tested as a method of potentially skipping one or more doses of your child’s vaccines, after all, if the titer is negative, then you are still going to have to get vaccinated
  • a healthcare provider with a negative measles titer after two doses of the MMR vaccine does not need another dose of vaccine
  • a healthcare provider who has anti-HBs <10 mIU/mL (negative titer) after three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine should get another dose of vaccine and repeat testing in 1 to 2 months – if still <10 mIU/mL, they should then get two more doses of hepatitis B vaccine (for a total of 6 doses) and repeat testing. If still negative, these documented nonresponders will need HBIG as post-exposure prophylaxis for any future hepatitis B exposures, but no further doses of hepatitis B vaccine.
  • vaccinated women of childbearing age who have received one or two doses of rubella-containing vaccine and have rubella serum IgG levels that is not clearly positive should be administered one additional dose of MMR vaccine, with a maximum of three doses, and should not be tested again
  • postvaccination titer testing is not recommended after the chicken pox vaccine
  • in addition to not being able to test titers for pertussis and Hib immunity, it is becoming difficult to test poliovirus type 2 titers, as the test uses a live virus that isn’t routinely available anymore (type 2 polio has been eradicated)

Still think you need vaccine titer testing?

More on Vaccine Titer Testing