Tag: passive protection

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

How Does a Mother’s Flu Shot Protect a Newborn Baby?

We know that pregnant women are supposed to get a flu vaccine.

Although recommendations on exactly when to get it have changed over the years, it has been a universal recommendation since at least the 1994-95 flu season.

But why?

How Does a Mother’s Flu Shot Protect a Newborn Baby?

One obvious way that a flu shot provides protection during pregnancy is that it reduces your risk of getting the flu while you are pregnant.

A flu shot during your pregnancy protects both you and your baby.
A flu shot during your pregnancy protects both you and your baby.

That’s good, as having the flu while you are pregnant can lead to preterm labor, a premature birth, birth defects, or a miscarriage. And of course, the flu can be life-threatening for pregnant women.

Getting a flu shot while you are pregnant can also help to make sure that you don’t get the flu after your baby is born, which not only keeps you healthy, but decreases the chance that your baby will be exposed to the flu. After all, if you get the flu, no matter how much you try to cover your cough and wash your hands, there is a good chance that you will give it to your baby.

And since babies can’t get flu shots of their own until they are at least six months old, a flu shot during pregnancy helps to make sure that your baby gets some of antibodies to protect them from the flu.

“When you get a flu shot, your body makes antibodies that also pass to your fetus. This means your baby has protection against the flu after birth. This is important because infants less than 6 months of age are too young to get the flu shot.”

Frequently Asked Questions for Patients Concerning Influenza (Flu) Vaccination During Pregnancy

Do you have to wait until late in your pregnancy to make sure that the most antibodies get passed to your baby?

While that might seem like a good idea, especially since that’s what we do for the Tdap vaccine and protection against pertussis, there are several reasons that we don’t do that with the flu vaccine, including that:

  1. pregnant mothers need the protection before flu season hits, so waiting would not be safe and could mean that you get sick with the flu before getting your shot
  2. protection from the flu vaccine shouldn’t wane or wear off so quickly that you need to get it later, after all, the earliest that you can get vaccinated is when flu vaccines first become available in August or September and that should provide good protection past the peak of flu season

When you get your flu shot while pregnant is going to have more to do with when you got pregnant in relation to the start of flu season more than anything else.

“The flu shot can be safely given during any trimester. Pregnant women can get the flu shot at any point during the flu season (typically October through May). Pregnant women should get the shot as soon as possible when it becomes available. If you are pregnant, talk with your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care provider about getting the flu shot.”

Frequently Asked Questions for Patients Concerning Influenza (Flu) Vaccination During Pregnancy

Most importantly, remember that flu shots are considered an “essential component of prenatal care.”

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each year, since pregnant women are in a high risk group for flu complications, you should especially make sure that you get vaccinated and protected if you are pregnant. Everyone around you should get vaccinated too!

More on Flu Shot Protection During Pregnancy

Did Your Hepatitis B Antibody Test Come Back Negative?

Hepatitis B can be prevented.Three doses of the hepatitis B vaccines have been shown to provide long lasting protection in most people.

Do you need to get your titers checked to make sure you are immune?

Usually not. Simply being fully vaccinated with the  vaccine is  good enough evidence that you are immune in most, but not all circumstances.

A few circumstances in which you might need to be tested can include:

  • a baby who was born to a HBsAg (hepatitis B surface antigen) mother
  • being a healthcare worker who has a job and who is in a work setting that puts them at higher risk for exposure to blood or body fluids from patients who are positive for HBsAg
  • being immunocompromised, so you are not sure if the vaccine is going to work, or patients requiring chronic dialysis
  • someone who has sex or shares needles with a person who has a chronic hepatitis B infection

The screening test for vaccine immunity that is done checks the persons level of anti-HBs (antibody to the hepatitis B surface antigen). It should be done one to two months after your last dose of hepatitis B vaccine, but not later.

“Persons determined to have anti-HBs concentrations of ≥10 mIU/mL after receipt of the primary vaccine series are considered immune, and the result should be documented. Immunocompetent persons have long-term protection and do not need further periodic testing to assess anti-HBs levels.”

CDC on Immunization of Health-Care Personnel

The alternative to screening healthcare workers after they complete their vaccination series is to do postexposure management. In this method, in the case of a needlestick or other blood or body fluid exposure, both the source patient and the health care worker are tested and postexposure prophylaxis is given as necessary.

Don’t pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B? They do, but not to see if they are immune from immunization. They routinely have a HBsAg test to see if they have a chronic hepatitis B infection, which can be passed on to their baby.

Other screening tests that can be done include anti-HBc (antibody to hepatitis B core antigen) and IgM anti-HBc (IgM subclass to hepatitis B core antigen). These two tests can help you figure out if a person has an acute infection or is immune from a past infection.

Non-Immune Hepatitis B Titer Levels

Why check the anti-HBs level?

Because of the devastating effects of chronic hepatitis B infections, it is good to have all of the information you can get to help prevent a possible infection if you are exposed to blood or body fluids while working.

Having a positive anti-HBs level, typically defined as a level of ≥10 IU/mL, means that you are immune and protected.

But what if your level is negative? What if your level is <10 IU/mL after you have already gotten three doses of hepatitis B vaccine?

Then you get another dose of hepatitis B vaccine and the level is checked again in one to two months. If it is still <10 IU/mL, then you get two more doses of hepatitis B vaccine and the level is checked again in one to two months.

If you are still negative after six or more doses of hepatitis B vaccine, then you are considered a non-responder. You would then require postexposure testing and possible prophylaxis if you are exposed to a patient’s blood or body fluids.

What If You Lost Your Hepatitis B Immunity?

There is a reason that they don’t recommend testing more than one to two months after your last dose of hepatitis B vaccine.

“Studies indicate that immunologic memory remains intact for at least 20 years and confers protection against clinical illness and chronic HBV infection, even though anti-HBs levels that once measured adequate might become low or decline below detectable levels. If one is challenged with HBV, people whose immune systems are competent will mount an anamnestic response and develop protective anti-HBs.”

Immunization Action Coalition on Hepatitis B Questions

It is known that anti-HBs levels can decrease over time.

Fortunately, this does not lead to waning immunity in typical circumstances. Because of an anamnestic response, the hepatitis B vaccine provides long lasting protection, even if your antibody levels appear to have dropped.

Avoiding Hepatitis B

Since health care workers should practice universal precautions whether or not they are immune to hepatitis B, being a non-responder isn’t going to change how you do things too much.

Plus, there are other diseases that are not yet vaccine preventable that you could get if you are stuck with a needle, so you are hopefully still very careful, no matter how immune you are to hepatitis B.

Still, it is very nice to have one less thing to worry about in this situation.

“Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated persons who experience a workplace exposure from persons known to be HBsAg-positive should receive 1 dose of hepatitis B immune globulin HBIG (i.e., passive vaccination) as soon as possible after exposure (preferably within 24 hours).”

CDC on Immunization of Health-Care Personnel

If you are a non-responder and and are exposed to hepatitis B, then one thing that is different is that you will likely require two doses of HBIG (hepatitis B immune globulin) for protection. Others can get one dose of HBIG and can repeat the hepatitis B vaccine. Those who are fully vaccinated and known to be immune likely won’t have to do anything to protect themselves from hepatitis B, although each incident should be investigated to make sure.

But it is not just healthcare workers who are at risk for accidental needlesticks. What if a healthcare worker sticks themselves and then you or your child? Or what if your child gets stuck with a discarded needle at the park?

What to Know About Hepatitis B Titers

Get vaccinated and follow the latest guidelines if you are exposed to hepatitis B, especially if you are a non-responder to the vaccine with low titer levels.

More on Hepatitis B Titers and Immunity