Vaccines: The actual facts (well, the links to some anyway...)

1-6 Nov has been declared "Vaccine Awareness Week." Therefore, I'll kick off with some posts intended to be a resource to those trying to find out more on the topic, with some tips on evaluating information on the internet.

So you're a new parent and are considering vaccination, or have children already and want to check into it. You've possibly heard some worrying things on that topic and want more information on the topic. Then it's going to Google, and that is a bit of a lottery with lots of sites making a lot of claims, You Tube videos and you might even find David Icke and his reptilian friends on the first page. It's hard to sift through it all and work what really needs to be read and what doesn't, especially when you're being offered information that tells you that it's "pro-choice" and offering to give "facts" your doctor doesn't know or won't give you. Unfortunately, the only choice some people want you to make is their choice. True informed consent involves having a full appreciation and understanding of all the facts and any consequences a medical decision might involve, if a person is misinformed it's far from it. So, to save everyone some work here's some links to useful information on the topic. As always this can't be exhaustive or cover every site available, but should be a good resource and a starting point for researching the topic.

Some criteria for assessing health information on the internet is an essential starting point:

1. Who wrote the information and are the authors experienced and qualified in the field they are writing on? Don't forget anyone can write anything on the internet and the term "Dr." is often misleading as this doesn't always mean the person is medically qualified.
2. When was it last updated? Check if the information is up to date. In medicine, a lot can change in a short amount of time and the information may be rendered irrelevant.
3. How is it funded? Check for true conflicts of interest such as whether the site owner is selling a product. If you see anything remotely like shopping cart, hit the back button. It's a sales pitch disguised as information.
4. What type of information is being offered? Is it describing something or is it just telling you something?
5. If a site has medical information on it: Check that the site uses independent experts and consider how reliable the evidence is. If it sounds surprising and very different from what you currently know, this should alert you to consider the material carefully and seek more information to check if it's correct or not.
6. Check for disclaimers and look for HONcode certification: HONcode certification demonstrates the site has met standards and is committed to publishing quality, objective and transparent information. Make sure that the site is clear about its intentions and the information contained on the site. Always check with your Doctor and Practice Nurse if more questions need to be asked as they can discuss material and assess how it applies to you or your families particular health needs.

New Zealand links:

- General:

Immunisation Advisory Centre or call 0800 IMMUNE. IMAC is a nationwide organisation based at the School of Population Health at The University of Auckland. The aim of the site is to provide New Zealanders with a local source of independent, factual information including benefits and risks regarding immunisation, and vaccine-preventable disease. The information is based on international and New Zealand medical research and is supported by a large network of health professionals.

Ministry of Health Immunisation pages - provides Information about MOH and it's work, along with health information and research.

Paediatric Society of New Zealand - The aims and objectives of the Society are to stimulate interest in and to promote the scientific study of child health and Paediatrics in New Zealand.

Family Doctor - Reliable health information written by practising doctors and other health professionals.

Medsafe - Information on the regulation of medicines and medical devices and the safe use of medicines.

National Influenza Strategy Group - Detailed information on influenza for the general public and healthcare professionals. - General health and travel tips, and links to sources of official advice.

One for the girls - Auckland District Health Board cervical cancer prevention programme.

Post Polio Support Society - Provides information and support for the members and others who have post-polio syndrome. - Provides information about a range of health topics, including immunisation and diseases. Also has information on support groups.

- Child Health:

Kids health - Immunisation: Complete fact sheet. Website provides information about children's health and is a joint initiative between the Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand.

WellChild/Tamariki Ora - Iis about babies, infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers under 5 years old and keeping them well, growing and developing to their fullest potential.

Plunket Society - Provides support services for the health and well being of children under the age of 5.

TAHA Well Pacific Mother & Infant Service - providing support and services to health professionals who work with Pacific children, with the aim that children have the best start to life.

Safekids New Zealand - National child injury prevention.

- International links:

The History of Vaccines - Explores the role of immunization in the human experience and examines its continuing contributions to public health.

The Vaccine Page - Provides access to up-to-the-minute news about vaccines and an annotated database of vaccine resources on the internet.

The National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) - (US) provides up-to-date, science-based information to healthcare professionals, the media, and the public: everyone who needs to know the facts about vaccines and immunization.

Voices for Vaccines - Aims to provide clear, accessible, science based information about vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases.

Immunization Action Coalition - Vaccine information for health professionals.

World Health Organisation - Health topics: Vaccines.

Immunise Australia Programme - Australian guide to vaccinations.

NHS (UK) Choices - Guide to vaccinations.

Health Canada - Childhood immunisation.

US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - Vaccines and Immunizations.

US Food and Drug Administration - Vaccines, blood and biologics.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - Charitable organisation.

Vaccine Ethics - Considers ethical questions relating to the development, regulation and use of vaccines.

- Diseases:

Immunisation Advisory Centre - Vaccine-preventable diseases.

Ministry of Health - information about diseases that are vaccine preventable and the vaccines that prevent them.

Vaccine Information - Information about Diphtheria, measles, mumps, pertussis and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

PKIDs' - Mission is to educate the public about infectious diseases, the methods of prevention and transmission, the latest advances in medicine, and the elimination of social stigma borne by the infected; and to assist the families of the children living with hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, or other chronic, viral infectious diseases with emotional, financial and informational support.

World Health Organisation - Vaccine-preventable diseases.

Disease Control Priorities Project - Table of selected vaccine-preventable diseases.

Wikipedia - Vaccine-preventable diseases.

There are also many blogs that may focus on vaccines and issues related to them, while it's impossible to keep track of them all Sciblogs has a health and medicine section, Science-Based Medicine is a US medical blog that often covers vaccination issues. Bad Science is based in the UK and specialises in picking apart dodgy scientific claims. Brian Deer's website is worth a look for those interested in the various claims made about the MMR vaccine.

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An interesting perspective on

An interesting perspective on anti-vaccination misinformation on the internet:

A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet - Anna Kata

"The Internet plays a large role in disseminating anti-vaccination information. This paper builds upon previous research by analyzing the arguments proffered on anti-vaccination websites, determining the extent of misinformation present, and examining discourses used to support vaccine objections. Arguments around the themes of safety and effectiveness, alternative medicine, civil liberties, conspiracy theories, and morality were found on the majority of websites analyzed; misinformation was also prevalent....."