Tag: immunocompromised

Is a Family History of Altered Immunocompetence a Contraindication to Getting Vaccinated?

Have you ever wondered why a “family history of altered immunocompetence” is listed as a contraindication to getting varicella and MMR vaccines?

If family members have altered immunocompetence, getting and exposing them to measles isn't a good idea either.
If family members have altered immunocompetence, getting and exposing them to measles isn’t a good idea either.

It’s probably not why you think…

Is a Family History of Altered Immunocompetence a Contraindication to Getting Vaccinated?

Which vaccines are contraindicated if you have a family history of altered immunocompetence?

Typically MMR and Varivax, the chicken pox vaccine.

Is this about side effects?

Kind of.

As they are live vaccines, you don’t usually want to give them to anyone who might be immunocompromised. And since some conditions that cause immune system problems can run in families, if there is a family history of these conditions, you want to make sure your child doesn’t have one before they are vaccinated.

(g) family history of congenital or hereditary immunodeficiency in first-degree relatives (e.g., parents and siblings), unless the immune competence of the potential vaccine recipient has been substantiated clinically or verified by a laboratory.

General Best Practice Guidelines for Immunization: Best Practices Guidance of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

Fortunately, these types of severe immune problems are rare.

They might include:

  • Severe antibody deficiencies (e.g., X-linked agammaglobulinemia and common variable immunodeficiency)
  • Complete defects (e.g., SCID disease, complete DiGeorge syndrome)
  • Partial defects (e.g., most patients with DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, ataxia- telangiectasia)
  • Phagocytic deficiencies that are undefined or accompanied by defects in T-cell and NK cell dysfunction (such as a Chediak-Higashi syndrome, Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency [LAD], and myeloperoxidase deficiency)

Talk to your pediatrician if your child has a first degree relative with one of these conditions, before they get their MMR or chicken pox vaccines.

Still, by twelve months, infants with a severe congenital or hereditary immunodeficiency or any other severe immunodeficiency will almost certainly have symptoms already.

Most children, for example, had been diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), in early infancy when they have severe and life-threatening infections and failure to thrive.

And most newborns in the United States are now screened for SCID as a part of their routine newborn screening test, and can be diagnosed and treated before they have symptoms! That’s also long before they might be due for their MMR or chicken pox vaccines.

So, if your child has a family history of congenital or hereditary immunodeficiency, and it is in a first-degree relative, but has no symptoms themselves, then they can get safely vaccinated on schedule.

Not surprisingly, anti-vaccine folks try to abuse their family history of altered immunocompetence as an vaccine exemption, even when their own child isn’t immunosuppressed!

More on Vaccine Contraindications

Why Do Some Folks Wear a Mask During Flu Season?

Wearing a surgical mask is very common when people are sick and want to avoid spreading their germs to others. They are also commonly worn when people are healthy and are just afraid of getting sick.

Why Do Some Folks Wear a Mask During Flu Season?

Is that why you see some folks wearing masks during flu season?

If you are worried about your privacy, why announce something on Facebook?
If you were worried about your privacy, would you talk about it on Facebook?

Maybe, but some folks actually have to wear a mask during flu season.

Well, they have to because they decide they don’t want to get a flu vaccine, but still want to keep their job that could put others at risk if they got sick with the flu. So basically, it is unvaccinated health care personal and others who work around sick and vulnerable people who might have to wear a mask when they are at work.

Why don’t they just get vaccinated and protected against the flu?

That’s a good question…

Some other questions to consider as you think about flu vaccine mandates include:

  • Do unvaccinated health care workers pose a risk to others in the course of their jobs? Of course they do. Health care personal are at high risk to get the flu, since they are often around people who are sick with the flu, and are at higher risk to get the flu if they are unvaccinated.
  • Does wearing a mask protect anyone? – Yes, they actually do and recent studies have concluded that “surgical face masks worn by infected persons are potentially an effective means of limiting the spread of influenza.”
  • Does getting a flu shot prevent you from catching the flu? – Flu shots aren’t the most effective vaccine we have, but they are the best way to avoid catching the flu, being 10 to 60% effective since 2004.
  • Does getting a flu shot prevent you from spreading the flu to others? Yes, and several studies have shown lower rates of nosocomial cases among hospitalized patients as more health care personal get vaccinated!
  • Does getting a flu shot just cause you to have milder symptoms? The flu vaccine does has many benefits besides preventing the flu, but it is certainly not limited to just causing milder symptoms.
  • Does wearing a mask violate your HIPAA rights? No. Unless you announce it, no one knows why you are wearing a face mask. Maybe you have herpes or a cold or are just afraid of getting sick. And the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act only protects patients, not employees.

So why don’t all health care personal get a flu vaccine each year?

Most do.

And while some people seem to be against the idea of mandates for health care workers getting flu shots, most think it is a great idea.

“I support this requirement. I think it is a good idea. Ethically, it makes total sense. First, every doctor, nurse, and HCW knows that they are supposed to put patient interests ahead of their own interests. Whatever you think about flu shots, it is good for patients that their healthcare providers are vaccinated against the flu, particularly among patients who cannot themselves be vaccinated, such as some of the elderly, babies, people with immune diseases, and people who just received transplants or are getting cancer treatment. Vaccination does not help them. They are all immunosuppressed.”

Art Caplan on The Law: Get a Flu Shot or Wear a Mask, Healthcare Workers!

In fact, most think that there is both an ethical and a legal rationale for flu vaccine mandates for health care workers.

“Doctors and other healthcare providers have an ethical obligation to make decisions and take actions that protect patients from preventable harm. 5 Many patients are highly vulnerable to flu, so choosing not to be vaccinated is choosing to do harm—a choice that has no place in healthcare.”

Doctors choosing not to be vaccinated is choosing to do harm

It is hard to imagine that some doctors and nurses not only skip getting vaccinated, putting others at risk, but then don’t even want to wear a mask.

More on Wearing Masks During Flu Season

Can I Get Rotavirus from My Recently Vaccinated Baby?

Your two month old recently got her vaccines, including the rotavirus vaccine.

Shedding Season is not a real thing.
Shedding Season is not a real thing.

Now you have diarrhea.

Was it from shedding from your child’s rotavirus vaccine?

Does the Rotavirus Vaccine Shed?

Like some other live virus vaccines, it is well known that the rotavirus vaccine can shed.

And like with most other vaccines, this shedding isn’t usually a cause for concern and definitely isn’t a reason to think about skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines.

Why not?

“All members of the household should wash their hands after changing the diaper of an infant. This minimizes rotavirus transmission, for an undetermined number of weeks after vaccination, from an infant who received rotavirus vaccine.”

General Recommendations on Immunization Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

If you wash your hands when you change your child’s diapers after they have been vaccinated, just like you hopefully do anyway, you can avoid any possible contact with any rotavirus vaccine virus that might be shed in your child’s stool.

Can I Get Rotavirus from My Recently Vaccinated Baby?

But what would be the risk of your getting sick if you did come into contact with shedding rotavirus vaccine virus in your child’s diaper?

Would you be at risk to get sick?

Did your baby get sick after getting the actual vaccine?

That’s the thing about shedding that many people don’t understand. These live vaccines are made with attenuated or weakened strains of viruses, so they don’t typically get you sick when you are vaccinated. And they don’t typically get you sick when you are exposed through shedding. In fact, this shedding can sometimes help build herd immunity, as more people get exposed to the weakened strain of vaccine virus.

But can they get you sick?

Yes, if you have a problem with your immune system, which is why there are warnings about giving live vaccines to folks who are immunocompromised. And there used to be warnings about giving the oral polio vaccine to kids if they were around anyone with an immune system problem.

Vaccine viruses could also get you sick if they mutated from their attenuated state and became more virulent. Fortunately, that rarely happens with most vaccines.

“The theoretical risk of HRV and PRV shedding, transmission to, and infection of immunocompromised contacts is much lower than the real risk of wildtype rotavirus infection transmitted from unvaccinated children.”

Anderson on Rotavirus vaccines: viral shedding and risk of transmission

And most importantly, since kids are much more likely to shed virus after natural infections, it is much safer for everyone to get vaccinated and protected with these vaccines.

Surprisingly, even children with asymptomatic natural rotavirus infections can shed virus for several weeks, which is likely why these infections used to spread so easily or without known contacts.

Something that will likely surprise some folks even more is the news that just because someone gets diarrhea after being exposed to the rotavirus vaccine, either because they were vaccinated or through shedding, it doesn’t mean that the vaccine was the cause of the diarrhea!

“Of note, among all six AGE cases which possessed Rotarix-derived strains, four (sample No.1, 5, 6 and 7) were suspected to be caused by other pathogens. Most likely, the infants were infected with other pathogens during the shedding period of Rotarix strain.”

Kaneko et al on Identification of vaccine-derived rotavirus strains in children with acute gastroenteritis in Japan, 2012-2015

When vaccine strain rotavirus have been detected in kids with gastroenteritis, they often have other reasons to have diarrhea.

What does this all mean?

Don’t believe all of the hype anti-vaccine folks push about shedding from vaccines.

More on Shedding and Rotavirus Vaccines

Does the FluMist Vaccine Shed?

Anti-vaccine folks like to talk a lot about shedding.

Where do they get the idea that vaccines shed?

Well, there is the fact that some live vaccines, like the rotavirus and oral polio vaccine, do actually shed.

Does the FluMist Vaccine Shed?

Remember, shedding occurs when an infectious agent, typically a virus, can be found in urine, stool, or other bodily secretions. Shedding is not specific to vaccines though. Shedding occurs very commonly after natural infections too, which is one reason they are so hard to control.

So does the Flumist vaccine shed?

Yes, it does, and it isn’t a secret.

There is actually a warning about shedding and Flumist – to avoid contact with severely immunosuppressed persons (e.g., hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients in a protected enviornment) for seven days after vaccination because of the theoretical risk that their severe immunosuppression might allow the weakened flu strain to somehow cause disease.

This warning obviously doesn’t apply to the great majority of people though.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that it sheds, after all, it is a live virus vaccine that is squirted in your nose!

Why isn’t it usually a problem?

Flumist contains attenuated viral strains of the flu that are temperature-sensitive, so even if you did get infected with the weakened flu strains from Flumist via shedding, they wouldn’t cause disease.

Another way to think about it is that the folks who actually get the Flumist vaccine don’t get the flu, so why would you get the flu if you were simply exposed to the vaccine virus by shedding?

Shedding from the Flumist vaccine doesn't cause disease.
Anti-vaccine folks are sharing this table like they uncovered some secret, but it is important to understand that shedding from the Flumist vaccine doesn’t cause disease. And this table is in package insert for Flumist!

The real concern with shedding is when it leads to folks actually getting sick.

Trying to scare folks about Flumist shedding is just like when they talk about the MMR vaccine, pushing the idea that the rubella vaccine virus might shed into breast milk or measles vaccine virus into urine. Either might happen, but since it won’t cause infection and disease, it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines.

What to Know About Shedding and Flumist

The Flumist vaccine does indeed shed, but unless you are going to have contact with someone who is severely immunocompromised in a protected environment, this type of shedding isn’t going to get anyone sick and isn’t a reason to avoid this vaccine.

More on Shedding and Flumist

When is Shedding Season?

Have you heard of shedding season?

Shedding season is starting?
Shedding season is starting?

I’ll give you a hint, we aren’t talking about cats and dogs…

When is Shedding Season?

So it seems that some folks are really worried about vaccines and shedding.

Precautions against viral shedding? Was he giving out smallpox or oral polio vaccines?
Precautions against viral shedding? Was he giving out smallpox or oral polio vaccines?

While some vaccines do actually shed, it is really only the oral polio vaccine and the smallpox vaccine that we get concerned about with shedding.

And even then, shedding from the oral polio vaccine would only be a concern for someone with an immune system problem. Since the oral polio vaccine contains an attenuated virus, if that attenuated virus shed to someone else, they wouldn’t get polio except in the very rare situation when the virus mutates. Instead, they would get protection against polio. That’s one of the benefits of using the oral polio vaccine!

Still, we don’t use the oral polio vaccine in the United States anymore.

Although the smallpox vaccine can shed, it is from the site of injection, where a scab forms in the days to weeks after getting vaccinated. Covering the site should prevent other people from getting exposed to shed virus and fortunately, this vaccine is only used in very special situations.

And the rotavirus vaccine sheds, but you just have to wash your hands after changing diapers to avoid this attenuated virus. Are you going to get rotavirus if you are exposed to an infant who was recently vaccinated? Infants who get the vaccine don’t get rotavirus, so why would you if you are exposed to them?

And other vaccines?

While some live vaccines might shed in very specific situations, like if they caused a rare vaccine-induced disease, they otherwise don’t shed. That’s why we don’t worry about most folks with immune system problems getting exposed to people who have recently been vaccinated.

Don’t believe me?

Every time there is an outbreak of measles, someone insists that it was caused by a vaccine strain of measles that was shed from someone who was recently vaccinated. How often is that true?

So when is shedding season?

Anti-vaccine folks consider the start of the school year to be shedding season, because that’s when they think kids get caught up on their vaccines. Is that why we see big outbreaks of measles, chicken pox, and rotavirus at the start of the school year?

Oh wait, we don’t…

“Live vaccine virus shedding is a possible source of transmission of vaccine-strain viral infection but how frequently that occurs is unknown. There is no active surveillance of live virus vaccine shedding and most vaccine strain virus infections likely remain unidentified, untested and unreported.”

NVIC on The Emerging Risks of Live Virus & Virus Vectored Vaccines: Vaccine Strain Virus Infection, Shedding & Transmission

Despite the best efforts of anti-vaccine folks to scare parents about shedding, folks should know that this is no shedding season.

Cases of vaccine strain virus infections from shedding are unidentified and unreported because they don’t happen!

This is why some folks believe in shedding season...
This is why some folks believe in shedding season…

Do you need to teach your kids to fist bump instead of shaking hands during shedding season???

Think about it.

If there were a shedding season, then why wouldn’t there be more outbreaks? Because everyone has learned to fist bump and avoid shaking hands in school?

What to Know About Vaccine Shedding and Shedding Season

Shedding season isn’t a real thing.

More on Vaccine Shedding and Shedding Season

 

Vaccines While Immunosuppressed

It seems to be a big surprise to many folks, but kids can get most vaccines when they are immunosuppressed. In fact, they sometimes get extra some extra vaccines, like Pneumovax, because the  “incidence or severity of some vaccine-preventable diseases is higher in persons with altered immunocompetence.”

They should also get all of their vaccines if they are around someone who is immunosuppressed.

Surprised?

Vaccines While Immunosuppressed

Which vaccines your kids can get while they are immunosuppressed is going to depend greatly on the reason why they are  immunosuppressed.

Are they getting chemotherapy?

Did they just get a stem cell transplant?

Were they born with a specific immunodeficiency, like X-linked agammaglobulinemia, selective IgA deficiency, severe combined immunodeficiency, or chronic granulomatous disease?

Whatever the reason, they likely won’t get a medical exemption to skip all of their vaccines.

“Killed vaccines will not cause infection in immunodeficient or any other children. The fear of increased community-acquired vaccine-preventable diseases should lead to adherence to and completion of recommended immunization schedules in the community to reinforce herd immunity, such that all vaccine-preventable diseases become exceedingly rare.”

Recommendations for live viral and bacterial vaccines in immunodeficient patients and their close contacts

In most cases, immunocompromised kids can get all inactivated vaccines. It is only live vaccines that could pose a problem. Even then, it depends on the specific immunodeficiency as to whether avoiding live vaccines is necessary.

For example, after chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, kids can usually get live vaccines.

Your doctors can review the latest guidelines to come up with a safe vaccination plan for your child with an immune system problem. If necessary, consultation with an infectious diseases or immunology specialist can also be helpful.

Don’t overlook other causes of possible immunosuppression when getting vaccinated, like taking daily oral steroids for more than two weeks, certain biologic immune modulators, or other medications like methotrexate, azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine.

“Limited evidence indicates that inactivated vaccines generally have the same safety profile in immunocompromised patients as in immunocompetent individuals. However, the magnitude, breadth, and persistence of the immune response to vaccination may be reduced or absent in immunocompromised persons.”

2013 IDSA Clinical Practice Guideline for Vaccination of the Immunocompromised Host

And keep in mind that just because they can and should get vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that their vaccines are going to work as well as in someone who isn’t immunocompromised.

That’s why herd immunity is so important for these kids.

Vaccines for Close Contacts of Immunocompromised People

What about people who come into contacts with kids and adults who are immunocompromised?

Can they get vaccines?

“Close contacts of patients with compromised immunity should not receive live oral poliovirus vaccine because they might shed the virus and infect a patient with compromised immunity. Close contacts can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity.”

Recommendations for live viral and bacterial vaccines in immunodeficient patients and their close contacts

Yes, close contacts can get vaccinated, especially since we don’t use the oral polio vaccine in the United States anymore.

There are some exceptions for the smallpox vaccine, which few people get, and Flumist, but only in very specific situations, including a recent hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.

Worried about shedding?

You should be worried about getting a vaccine-preventable disease and giving it to those around you with immune system problems. That’s the real risk!

This is the modern anti-vaccine movement - taking an immoral stand against vaccines and putting sick kids at risk for life-threatening disease.
This is the modern anti-vaccine movement – scaring parents and taking an immoral stand against vaccines and putting sick kids at risk for life-threatening disease.

And no, you are not being selfish to expect those around you to get vaccinated.

Vaccines are safe and necessary – for all of us.

More on Vaccines While Immunosuppressed

Vaccines After Cancer and Chemotherapy

Most people know that children being treated for cancer have a suppressed immune system and are at extra risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

That’s one of the reasons that it is important for everyone to be vaccinated, so that herd immunity levels of protection can protect those who can’t get vaccines.

Vaccines After Cancer and Chemotherapy

But what happens after they complete their cancer treatments?

“The interval until immune reconstitution varies with the intensity and type of immunosuppressive therapy, radiation therapy, underlying disease, and other factors. Therefore, often it is not possible to make a definitive recommendation for an interval after cessation of immunosuppressive therapy when inactivated vaccines can be administered effectively or when live-virus vaccines can be administered safely and effectively.”

Red Book on Immunization in Immunocompromised Children

After they complete therapy for cancer, whether it is chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant, many children need to get extra vaccines.

In the UK, for example, 6 months after completing “standard antileukemia chemotherapy,” children get a booster dose of DTaP, IPV, Hib, MenC, and MMR.

Why just a single booster dose?

Because most kids can continue to get non-live vaccines on schedule while they are getting standard chemotherapy. They get a booster dose when they finish chemotherapy because those vaccine doses they got while receiving treatment might not be as effective as usual and typically don’t count as valid doses.

Of course, if they were missing any doses, then they might need extra doses to catch up too.

“Three months after cancer chemotherapy, patients should be vaccinated with inactivated vaccines and the live vaccines for varicella; measles, mumps, and rubella; and measles, mumps, and rubella-varicella according to the CDC annual schedule that is routinely indicated for immunocompetent persons.”

2013 IDSA Clinical Practice Guideline for Vaccination of the Immunocompromised Host

In contrast to those getting standard chemotherapy, if treatment involved a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), then these children are essentially revaccinated:

  • beginning at 6 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of DTaP if they are less than 7-years-old vs a dose of Tdap and 2 doses of Td if they are already 7-years-old
  • beginning at 3-6 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of Prevnar
  • beginning at 6-12 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of Hib
  • beginning at 6-12 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of hepatitis B, followed by postvaccination anti-HBs titer testing
  • beginning at 6-12 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of IPV
  • beginning at 6-12 months after the HSCT, they should get 2 doses of a meningocococcal vaccine (if they are already 11 to 18 years old)
  • beginning at 6-12 months after the HSCT, they should get 3 doses of  HPV vaccine (if they are already 11 to 26 years old)
  • beginning at 12 months after the HSCT, one dose of the Pneumovax vaccine
  • beginning at 24 months after the HSCT, two doses of MMR
  • beginning at 24 months after the HSCT, two doses of the chicken pox vaccine
  • a yearly flu shot

Why not just check titers instead of repeating all of those vaccines?

“protective” concentrations or titers in this population may not be as valid as in healthy children, leaving open the question regarding what levels to use as the basis for revaccination. Furthermore, there are some vaccines for which no serological correlate of protection exists (e.g., pertussis) or for which, in routine practice, it is too difficult to have levels measured (e.g., polio).

Soonie R. Patel et al. on Revaccination of Children after Completion of Standard Chemotherapy for Acute Leukemia

In Canada, they used to check titers at 1, 3, and 5 years after the end of chemotherapy and just vaccinate when titers dropped, but they switched to giving all kids a booster dose, as it works better.

What will your child’s immunization look like after completing treatment for cancer?

Although the specific recommendations will come from your child’s treatment team, they will likely look something like the guidelines included here.

What to Know About Vaccines After Cancer and Chemotherapy

Kids often have to get revaccinated, or at least get booster doses of their vaccines, after completing treatment for cancer.

More on Vaccines After Cancer and Chemotherapy