Tag: maternal antibodies

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 Holland 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’s missing in Denmark?

Vaccines for rotavirus, chickenpox, hepatitis A or B, and meningococcal disease are not offered for free, but are still available in Denmark.

Folks who don’t vaccinate their kids!

Denmark has very high immunization rates – over 97% for infants and toddlers!

In addition to free vaccines, the Danish vaccine program offers these vaccines that folks can ask for and pay for themselves. Some people in high risk groups can get them free.

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

Is the MMR Safe for 6-Month-Old Babies?

Most parents understand that the first dose of the MMR vaccine is routinely given to children when they are 12 to 15 months old, at least in the United States.

In some other countries, the first dose is routinely given as early as 8 to 9-months of age.

And in high-risk situations, the MMR can safely be given to infants as early as age 6-months.

Is the MMR Safe for 6 Month Old Babies?

An early MMR, is that safe?

This type of pure anti-vaccine propaganda is what caused the measles outbreaks in New York in the first place...
This type of pure anti-vaccine propaganda is what caused the measles outbreaks in New York in the first place…

Yes, it is safe.

What about the package insert?

“Local health authorities may recommend measles vaccination of infants between 6 to 12 months of age in outbreak situations. This population may fail to respond to the components of the vaccine. Safety and effectiveness of mumps and rubella vaccine in infants less than 12 months of age have not been established. The younger the infant, the lower the likelihood of seroconversion (see CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY). Such infants should receive a second dose of M-M-R II between 12 to 15 months of age followed by revaccination at elementary school entry.”

MMR II Package Insert

The package insert says to give infants who get an early dose another dose when they are 12 to 15 months old! It doesn’t say to not protect these babies!

But what about the idea that the safety and effectiveness of MMR hasn’t been proven for infants under 12 months of age?

In general, the package insert is only going to list studies that the manufacturer used to get FDA approval for their vaccine. Since it is an off-label recommendation of the ACIP, they would not include the studies that show that an early MMR is safe and effective.

“In conclusion, this study indicated that the MMR was well tolerated and immunogenic against measles, mumps and rubella with schedule of first dose both at 8 months and 12 months age. Our findings strongly supported that two doses of MMR can be introduced by replacing the first dose of MR in current EPI with MMR at 8 months age and the second dose at 18 months in China.”

He et al on Similar immunogenicity of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine administrated at 8 months versus 12 months age in children.

Before 8 months, an early MMR isn’t likely to be as effective as giving it later. That’s because some maternal antibodies might linger in a baby’s system and can interfere with the vaccine working, even after six months. How many antibodies and how much interference?

It’s almost impossible to tell for any one child, but the risk that this maternal protection has begun to wear off and these infants are at risk to develop measles is too great. That’s the reason that they get an early MMR, even though we know it won’t be as effective as a dose given later and we know it will have to be repeated.

Is this early dose safe?

“This review did not identify any major safety concerns. These findings may facilitate discussions about the risks and benefits of vaccinating infants who are potentially exposed to this life-threatening disease.”

Woo et al on Adverse Events After MMR or MMRV Vaccine in Infants Under Nine Months Old

Of course! Although the complications of measles can be serious, even deadly, we aren’t going to recommend something that is even worse.

“Early MMR vaccination is well tolerated, with the lowest AE frequencies found in infants aged 6-8 months. It is a safe intervention for protecting young infants against measles.”

van der Maas et al on Tolerability of Early Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Infants Aged 6-14 Months During a Measles Outbreak in The Netherlands in 2013-2014.

So an early MMR is safe, with few risks, and is likely effective at preventing measles.

And by now you know what’s not safe. That’s right, getting measles.

More on Early MMR Vaccines

Is the La Leche League Anti-Vaccine?

Why would anyone think that the La Leche League, an organization who’s mission is to support breastfeeding, might be against vaccines?

“Many parents have questions about the compatibility of vaccines and breastfeeding. Your healthcare provider can address any questions that come up for you.”

la leche league international on Vaccines

They certainly don’t make any strong statements supporting vaccines…

“The LLLI Health Advisory Council suggests families discuss the pros and cons of influenza vaccines with their health care practitioners.”

la leche league international on Influenza

The cons of influenza vaccines?

What are those exactly? That the protection babies get from their mother’s pregnancy flu shot doesn’t last until they go to college?

What’s the greatest evidence that they might not support vaccines? I mean, besides anti-vaccine La Leache League leaders who actively say that they are against vaccines?

Bob Sears is giving two lectures  on vaccines at an upcoming La Leche League breastfeeding conference.
What exactly will Bob Sears be talking about during his two lectures on vaccines at this upcoming La Leche League breastfeeding conference?

Bob Sears is giving two lectures on vaccines at an upcoming La Leche League breastfeeding conference.

Will he really discuss the benefits of vaccines for pregnant and post-partum mothers and their families?

“Dr. Bob Sears, a renowned Dana Point pediatrician who has been sought out by parents who wish to opt out of the state’s mandatory vaccine requirements, has been placed on probation for 35 months by the Medical Board of California.”

Dr. Bob Sears, renowned vaccine skeptic, placed on probation for exempting child from all vaccinations

And considering that he nearly lost his medical license over giving an improper vaccine exemption, what can we really expect from his talk on California’s vaccine law?

“Remember that La Leche League is exclusively focused on breastfeeding support and has no stance on vaccinations.”

La Leche League USA

No stance on vaccinations?

Actually, with bringing Dr. Bob to their conference, it seems like they made a very clear stance…

“Nursing also allows your baby to give germs to you so that your immune system can respond and can synthesize antibodies! This means that if your baby has come in contact with something which you have not, (s)he will pass these germs to you at the next nursing; during that feeding, your body will start to manufacture antibodies for that particular germ. By the time the next feeding arrives, your entire immune system will be working to provide immunities for you and your baby. If you are exposed to any bacteria or viruses, your body will be making antibodies against them and these will be in your milk.”

Can Breastfeeding Prevent Illnesses?

And they have also done a good job of making it sound like breastfeeding infants don’t need vaccines.

They do!

While breastfeeding is great, it is not a substitute for getting vaccinated. In fact, antibodies in breast milk will not protect a baby against most vaccine-preventable diseases.

If the La Leche League truly wants to support what’s best for kids, they should move away from pushing non-evidence based therapies, especially craniosacral therapy and referrals to chiropractors for breastfeeding problems, and they should take a stand supporting vaccines.

The La Leche League is on this list of other organizations that speak out against vaccines.
The La Leche League is on this list of other organizations that speak out against vaccines.

Then maybe they wouldn’t appear on any lists from the NVIC.

More on Vaccines and the La Leche League

Myths About Your Baby’s Immature Immune System

Newborns and infants have immature immune systems, at least as compared to older children and adults.

Premature babies can usually get all vaccines on schedule - at their chronological age, not an adjusted age based on being a preemie.
Premature babies can usually get all vaccines on schedule – at their chronological age, not an adjusted age based on being a preemie. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

That doesn’t mean that their immune system is so immature they they can’t fight off many infections or that they shouldn’t be vaccinated. Even premature babies should usually be vaccinated on time.

Your Baby’s Immature Immune System

So just how immature is their immune system?

“A picture emerges of a child born with an immature, innate and adaptive immune system, which matures and acquires memory as he or she grows.”

Simon et al on Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age

It is immature enough that the protection that they get from passive immunity and transplacental transfer of antibodies before they are born is considered critical to protect them from many infections.

“After birth, the sudden enormous exposure to environmental antigens, many of them derived from intestinal commensal bacteria, calls for a rapid change to make distinct immune responses appropriate for early life.”

Simon et al on Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age

Fortunately, their immune system quickly matures and develops, so that as their maternal protection begins to fade, they are “better armed with the maturing innate and adaptive immune systems.”

“The risks are now much reduced by vaccinations, which stimulate protective immune responses in the maturing immune system.”

Simon et al on Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age

Getting fully vaccinated  on time helps too.

Myths About Your Baby’s Immune Response to Vaccines

Getting vaccinated?

With an immature immune system?

How does that work?

It will likely come as a surprise to some folks, but it actually works quite well!

“Although infants can generate all functional T-cells (ie, Th1, Th2, and cytotoxic T-cells), infant B-cell responses are deficient when compared with older children and adults. Infants respond well to antigens (such as proteins) that require T-cell help for development. However, until about 2 years of age, the B-cell response to T-cell-independent antigens (such as polysaccharides) is considerably less than that found in adults.”

Offit et al on Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System?

In fact, we know that:

  • newborns respond well to the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine
  • the birth dose of BCG vaccine is effective at preventing severe TB disease
  • infants respond well to the vaccines in the primary series that they get at 2, 4, and 6 months
  • while infants respond well to most vaccines, to “circumvent the infant’s inability to mount T-cell-independent B-cell responses,” we use some conjugate vaccines when necessary, like Hib and Prevnar. This is especially important because their immature immune system puts them at extra risk for Hib and pneumococcal disease. Why? These are “bacteria that are coated with polysaccharides.”
  • older infants and toddlers respond to other vaccines, including MMR and the chicken pox vaccine, once maternal antibodies began to fade and can no longer cause interference.

So vaccines work in babies and young infants, just like they do for older children, teens, and adults.

But that makes you wonder, if anti-vaccine folks don’t think that vaccines work in these younger children and that their immune system is so immature, then how can these vaccines overstimulate their immune system???

They don’t.

Both the immunogencity and safety of vaccines for infants are well studied.

What to Know About Your Baby’s Immature Immune System

Vaccines work well to help protect newborns and infants as their immune system continues to develop and mature.

More About Your Baby’s Immature Immune System