TIME vaccines

RFK Jr. Joins the Anti-Vaccine Fringe

RFK, Jr.: Big bullhorn, bad ideas
RFK, Jr.: Big bullhorn, bad ideas Ethan Miller; 2014 Getty Images

A man who used to tell hard truths now peddles dangerous nonsense

There are lots of places to go if you want dangerous crazytalk. There are websites, blog threads, cable channels trafficking in all kinds of addled nonsense about birther conspiracies and one-world governments. And then there was Robert Kennedy, Jr., the tireless, honest climate hero long famous for fighting the very good fight.

But that was then. RFK, Jr. may still know a thing or two about global warming, but he has taken a disreputable plunge into the world of anti-science with his new and inexplicable crusade: warning people about the dangers of vaccines.

Let’s be clear: Kennedy will tell you he’s not against vaccines themselves, but rather, against thimerosal, a vaccine preservative purportedly responsible for the rise in autism in the U.S. He’s even publishing a new book—Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak—making this frightening point. The problem is: he’s wrong—utterly wrong, so wrong it’s hard even to know what the biggest piece of that wrongness is.

But let’s start with a single fact that ought to be, as the lawyers like to say, dispositive: the thimerosal ain’t there. With the exception of the flu vaccine, it was removed from or reduced to trace levels in all vaccines given to children under 6-years-old 13 years ago. You face a greater mercury risk eating seafood and fish—and even that danger is low enough that the EPA recently recommended that pregnant and nursing women increase their intake of certain kinds of fish because the nutritional benefits outweigh the theoretical dangers.

Kennedy is wrong on basic epidemiology too. Autism diagnoses have indeed risen steadily in the U.S. in recent years, but that has been happening in the same period in which thimerosal levels in vaccines plunged. When your cause goes away and your reputed effect increases, well, you really do need to review your class notes on what cause and effect mean in the first place.

Most fundamentally, Kennedy does not get chemistry. Thimerosal is an ethylmercury product. Mercury in general may be a neurotoxin, but it’s in its methylmercury form that it does its damage—and only in particular concentrations. The quantity of ethylmercury that was once in vaccines was so small that it was actually within acceptable limits for the more toxic, methyl form—but it wasn’t even in that methyl form to begin with.

Kennedy, more than most anti-vaxxers, really ought to know better. In his long career as a climate crusader he has had to answer the febrile claims from the denialists that the whole threat of global warming is a conspiracy cooked up by “grant-grubbing scientists” and liberal politicians looking to expand the role of government. Yet when it comes to vaccines, he clangs the same loony-tune bells.

As long ago as 2005, he published an anti-vax article in Rolling Stone claiming to reveal how “government health agencies colluded with Big Pharma to hide the risks of thimerosal from the public.” And Keith Kloor, the author of a new Washington Post Magazine profile of Kennedy, reports that last year, in response to a story he wrote on the Discover magazine website labeling this kind of thinking as the nonsense that it is, Kennedy called him up and said bluntly, “I’m trying to figure out whether you are a shill for Big Pharma.”

The worst—and the least explicable—thing about Kennedy and his new cause is the company he keeps. His book is being put out by Skyhorse Publishing—an outfit that also includes the disgraced Andrew Wakefield in its stable of authors. Wakefield is the U.K. investigator whose fraudulent 1998 paper purporting to link autism to the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine set off the entire anti-vaccine wildfire. In 2010, The Lancet formally withdrew the 1998 paper and Wakefield has since been banned from practicing medicine in the U.K. And as for the company Wakefield himself keeps? The foreword to his book was written by Jenny McCarthy.

Kennedy may deeply believe the rubbish he’s peddling—but science doesn’t care about your sincerity; it cares about the facts. That doesn’t mean he’s not in a position to do real harm. Like McCarthy, he has a big soapbox and a loud bullhorn, and every parent he frightens into skipping vaccinations means one more child who is in danger.

In the Washington Post profile, Kennedy complains about the trouble he’s having getting his anti-vaccine message across. “I’m completely f***ing alone on this,” he gripes. Well, good. He deserves to be alone, and if fewer people than he hoped are listening to him, that’s a positive sign.

TIME Infectious Disease

Spacing Out Kids’ Vaccines Can Hurt Their Health, Experts Say

Girl getting immunization
Getty Images

All those shriek-inducing pokes may seem excessive but the rewards of following national vaccination guidelines far outweigh the risks, experts say

“Like any parent, I don’t like to see my child get a shot,” says Dr. Michael J. Smith, a pediatrician at the University of Louisville who has studied immunizations and developmental health outcomes among kids. “But these vaccine schedules are in place for a reason.” Smith compares skipping or postponing one of your child’s vaccinations to not buckling him or her in during a car ride. “You never know when you’re going to get hit. And if you delay or space out your child’s shots, not only are you putting your kids at risk, but you’re putting other people’s kids at risk too.”

The urgency of Smith’s warnings are borne out in the recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis, diseases that had been almost totally eradicated in the U.S. but have made a frightening comeback since the turn of the century—right around the time two now-discredited scientific papers suggested a possible link between vaccines and autism. Dozens of subsequent studies have demonstrated there are no links between vaccinations and autism. But while stats show most parents understand the importance of immunizing their kids, research from the University of Michigan indicates plenty of moms and dads—roughly 1 in 4—worry that current immunization guidelines may overburden their babies’ tiny immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend that all healthy babies be vaccinated against 12 different diseases or viruses during the first two years of life. That’s compared to eight back in the early 1990s. Recently added to the list are vaccinations against potentially deadly illnesses like hepatitis and chicken pox.

But while the number of vaccines (and needle pricks) has grown during the last two decades, the amount of antigen in those shots, which is the substance that triggers a response from your child’s immune system, has plummeted, Smith explains. “The actual burden on your child’s immune system is far lower that it was 10 or 20 years ago, even though kids now receive more shots,” he says. That’s credited to advances in protein science and a better understanding of the way diseases and children’s immune systems interact.

In an effort to provide some answers for concerned parents, Smith and his colleagues looked at kids’ scores on tests related to motor skill, verbal memory, attention span, and several other neuropsychological factor to see if vaccine timing had any impact—good or bad—on a child’s brain development. His research shows kids vaccinated on time score the same or better than children who receive their vaccinations late or not at all.

Related research from Canada looked specifically at the immunization decisions made by parents of children diagnosed with autism. “Our study found that roughly 60 percent of parents who had a child with autism delayed or declined vaccinations for a later-born child,” says Dr. Jessica Brian, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto. According to Brian’s research, those children who did not receive their shots on time or altogether were slightly more likely to develop autism. “I don’t want to suggest that vaccines offer some protection against autism,” she says. “But our data show that there’s no increased risk of autism among kids who are vaccinated on time.”

Brian, Smith and other vaccine researchers repeatedly point to the Internet as a source of misinformation and, in some cases, unsubstantiated fear mongering when it comes to vaccines. Not uncommon are conspiracy theories involving pharmaceutical companies and the CDC. But travel overseas, and the picture changes slightly.

In Europe, where some diseases were never eradicated as thoroughly as they were in the U.S., health officials say there isn’t as much “too much, too soon” concern among parents when it comes to immunizations. Still, European moms and dads do harbor fears about potential vaccine side effects, says Niklas Danielsson, deputy head of the vaccine-preventable diseases program for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Danielsson says the “unprecedented success” of vaccination programs has created a generation of young parents who aren’t familiar with the reality of something like a measles outbreak, so they’re focus is on a shot’s rare risks as opposed to its many proven benefits.

The lingering presence of diseases in other countries is one of the big reasons having your children vaccinated on time is so important, says Dr. Simon Hambidge, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Colorado. “We live in a world of international travel, and people are coming into our country all the time who may be carrying these diseases,” Hambidge says. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of the new outbreaks we’re seeing involve unvaccinated children.”

Hambidge has looked closely at one possible vaccine side effect that has parents worried: seizures. The CDC recommends that all healthy infants receive their first measles vaccination between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and some research has linked the measles vaccine to higher rates of febrile seizures. Though frightening for parents, seizures of this type are relatively common and almost never cause lasting damage, Hambidge explains. “About one in 2,000 to 4,000 kids will experience one of these febrile seizures after receiving the measles vaccine,” he says. “But we found that that seizure rate rises to one in 1,000 or 2,000 if the measles vaccine is given late, or between 16 and 23 months of age.” Hambidge says this is just one example of how a slight deviation from the CDC’s vaccination schedule can put your child’s health at risk.

“The risk of measles is far, far more serious than the risk for febrile seizures,” Hambidge says. “Even if your child is unlucky enough to have a seizure after a vaccination, these seizures are short-lived and don’t lead to any long-term issues, while measles is a life-threatening disease.”

Despite the overwhelming amount of research and real-world evidence that points to the reliable safety of vaccines, experts acknowledge that parents will continue to worry about the chemicals and additives in immunization shots. To those who have doubts, Dr. Smith says, “Vaccines are one of the most rigorously tested and effective health products on the planet. Nothing involving them is done lightly.”

And when it comes to the CDC’s recommendations regarding vaccination schedules, he adds, “As a pediatrician and as a parent, if my family’s on vacation and we have to put off my daughter’s doctor visit, I get anxious each day that she goes unvaccinated. I think the timing is that important.”

TIME vaccines

Childhood Vaccines Are Safe, Says Pediatrics Group

The latest in-depth review of immunizations shows that they aren’t linked to higher risk of autism or cancer

It’s been three years since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) came out with its comprehensive look at vaccine safety. That’s enough time to generate dozens more studies investigating side effects and risk of conditions such as autism and cancer that keep some parents from vaccinating their children against potentially lethal diseases like mumps, measles and pertussis.

Since 2011, when the IOM issued its report, 67 new studies that included proper follow up periods and control groups have emerged. So the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality requested an updated review of the data on vaccine safety, this time including data on previously unstudied immunizations against pneumococcus, rotavirus, Hib and inactivated polio virus vaccines in addition to the well-studied ones.

MORE: How Safe Are Vaccines?

Overall, the researchers, led by Margaret Maglione at the RAND Corporation, report in the journal Pediatrics that most of the childhood immunizations are safe, with only a few associated with rare adverse effects. The group found that the MMR vaccine, which some parents believe raise the risk of autism, does not increase the risk of the developmental disorder. They did find moderate evidence that rotavirus vaccination can cause twisting of the bowels in a small number of children, but the condition can be treated.

“We need to keep doing this,” says Dr. Carol Baker, executive director of the center for vaccine awareness and research at Texas Children’s Hospital, of the study updates. “We can’t just sit still and rest on prior information.”

MORE: 4 Diseases Making a Comeback Thanks to Anti-Vaxxers

Increasingly, she says, pediatricians are spending more time discussing vaccines and vaccine safety with confused or hesitant parents. That’s a different scenario from the days of the polio epidemic, when parents were lining their children up to get them vaccinated against the paralyzing disease. “The major reason the safety of vaccines has become more of an issue recently is that many of the diseases they prevent have pretty much disappeared,” says Baker, who also served as chair of the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which makes recommendations about which vaccines children should get, and when. “So this is a very needed report.”

It’s especially helpful as more parents are either skeptical about vaccines, and need reassurance that getting their children is the safe, and responsible thing to do, or are adamantly convinced that vaccines do more harm than good. Many pediatricians have alerted their patients that they won’t see children whose parents won’t get them vaccinated since they could pose a risk of passing on disease to their other patients, including infants under six months old who can’t get vaccinated because their immune systems are still too undeveloped to respond properly to the shots, and children whose immune systems are compromised because of cancer or other conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t advise that its members refuse patients, but some pediatricians believe it’s the only way to protect the children they see. “Pediatricians have to have a conversation about risks and benefits of vaccines,” says Baker. “So we need to keep looking at the studies and the data. Vaccines are good, and disease is bad, and the risk-benefit ratio is favorable for all vaccines. This new study gives reassurance that that’s true.”

TIME

Nasal Flu Spray Better Than Shot For Young Kids, CDC Panel Says

Kids who use the nasal flu vaccine are half as likely to get sick as those who get the shot

Needle-phobic kids, rejoice!

U.S. health officials say the nasal spray flu vaccine is more effective than a traditional shot for children ages 2 to 8.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of experts that makes recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control for which vaccines children and adults should get, voted to recommend the spray over the shot late Wednesday. The panel said studies show children who had the spray are half as likely to get the flu as those who had the shot.

So far, there is only one nasal spray flu vaccine available — AstraZeneca’s FluMist, which was approved in 2003 for people ages 2 to 49.

The spray differs from the needle-based vaccine in another important way — it’s made from a live, weakened influenza virus, while the shot drums up an immune response using killed virus. Studies have shown the spray can lead to a stronger immune response in children who have not had the flu before, but the same may not hold true for adults.

Not everyone agrees with the panel’s recommendation, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s largest pediatric group, does not think any one vaccine should be given preference for kids, since both are effective. One concern they cite is the fact that FluMist is typically more expensive than the flu shot, according to the Associated Press. AstraZeneca’s product costs about $23 while shots range from $8 to $22.

Other experts say that the spray isn’t for everyone. “Some kids can’t take the mist, namely those with compromised immune systems and kids with asthma, who could have a respiratory response,” Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay. “So when in doubt, get the shot.”

The committee’s advice, which government pubic health officials usually follow, also comes too late for the upcoming flu season in the fall. Doctors have already ordered their vaccine doses, so if approved, most pediatricians won’t be able to follow the advice until next year.

Still, according to the AP, AstraZeneca may have anticipated the decision and made more of the spray for the coming flu season. The company will manufacture 18 million doses to distribute globally, up from 13 million made for the U.S. last year, Kathleen Coelingh, the company’s senior director of U.S. medical affairs told the news agency.

While not everyone agrees on the panel’s advice, public health experts do agree on the fact that every child should be immunized. If the nasal spray is not immediately available, children should get the flu shot so that they do not miss or delay an opportunity to get vaccinated.

 

TIME Children

Why Polio is Doomed and Gun Violence Isn’t

It's hard to spot the heroism—but it's there
It's hard to spot the heroism—but it's there Randy Plett; Getty Images

It shouldn't take too much courage to stop a scourge that is killing children. Washington's gun cowards could take a lesson from the heroes battling polio

A century ago, the quickest way to diagnose polio was with the belly button test. A doctor would ask a suddenly feverish, bedridden child to lift her head from her pillow and look at her belly button. If she couldn’t do it—if the muscles in her neck and stomach and pretty much anywhere else could no longer contract and lift the way they should—the odds were that the news was bad. Within the day, the child would be paralyzed.

There has always been a particular ugliness to polio—a virus that robs a child of the simple ability to move at what should be the most restless, kinetic, exploratory stage of life. Mercifully, in most of the world that ugliness is gone—though not everywhere.

Meantime, in the U.S., a new kind of horror has taken polio’s place: the school shooting. This one also strikes at children and defies what should be one of childhood’s givens: that school is a place for learning, a place for play, a place that counts as a so-called safe space, even before we became a nation that required such formally designated asylum zones.

Both polio and school shootings are acts of violence—one viral, one human. But only one, polio, is doomed to lose, as I realized yesterday when I attended a briefing by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at U.N. Foundation headquarters in New York, just a day after the latest school school shooting, this one at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore.

The big players at the polio conference were familiar names: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international consulting group Global Health Strategies. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the progress that is being made to eradicate the last case of polio anywhere on the planet—making the disease only the second one, after smallpox, to have been vaccinated into well-deserved extinction.

The polio hunters are tantalizingly close to their goal: In 1988, polio was endemic to 120 countries and claimed 350,000 people—overwhelmingly children—each year. In 2013, there were only 416 cases worldwide and the disease was endemic to just three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the year-to-date-numbers are higher in 2014 than they were last year, thanks mostly to attacks on polio workers by extremists in Pakistan and unrest in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere, which is allowing the virus to slip across borders.

That’s part of the reason the group assembled yesterday—to review their plan to push back against the resurgence, a plan that is breathtaking in its scope: there are the 105 million doses of oral polio vaccine that have been administered in and around Syria; the 3,176 hard-to-reach communities in Nigeria that are now being reached by health care workers bringing oral vaccine; the 2,000 health camps that have been held to educate and vaccinate in the ground zero state of Kano in northern Nigeria and the 10,000 more that are planned; the millions upon millions of children in 126 countries who will be receiving at least one dose of the injectable form of polio vaccine, which uses a killed virus and thus eliminates even the small risk of the weakened virus used in the oral version escaping into the wild.

And then, of course, there is the sheer, literally death-defying brass of the vaccine workers who regularly trudge into the Pakistani tribal areas, knowing that some of the workers who have come before them have been gunned down in drive-by shootings, and that every day they go out with their vials of drops there is a risk they won’t come home. But they go all the same.

Eradicating a viral disease is nothing less than an act of hunting molecules—protein particles so simple they don’t even qualify as technically alive—and destroying them anywhere they are hiding in the world. That’s an almost surreally difficult thing to accomplish, yet that’s what the Gateses and Rotary and WHO and others have decided must be done. And so they’re doing it.

And then, on the other side of the decency and courage arc, are the gun cowards. They are the American legislators who dare not cast a vote that will anger the National Rifle Association; the governors who walk away from the problem even as the children in their states—whose welfare they have sworn to ensure—are being murdered; the political parties that, if they acknowledge the problem at all, consider it too radioactive to take up this year, this session, this electoral cycle.

“‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says the Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” wrote The Onion, in a brilliant riff on the what-can-we-do faux-helplessness of the political class. But in case they’re really wondering, here’s what they can do: they can think less about locking down their base, expanding their majority, dodging the 30-second attack ad and more about the simple safety of children. Because here is a hard fact: there are babies and young people alive today who will be dead soon because of the choices now being made. If that isn’t enough to turn an election night victory into ash, America’s politicians are beyond help.

TIME Opinion

The New Measles Outbreak: Blame the Anti-Vaxxers

103311832
Thin-section transmission electron micrograph, TEM, of a single measles virus particle or virion Kallista Images—Getty Images

A disturbing report from the Centers for Disease Control shows what happens when anti-vaccine nonsense wins.

You have to be spoiled to play cute with disease—spoiled or, well, stupid. And today’s announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that measles cases in the U.S. have hit record highs in the first five months of this year is a maddening example of both. I learned of the report in an especially striking way.

I returned this morning from a conference in Singapore where some of the most stimulating discussions were about global health — specifically, how to extend the preventive measures and treatments so easily available in the developed world to the harder-to-reach parts of the developing one. There were conversations about how wireless technology can be used to communicate between rural villages and urban hospitals, how new medicines can be fast-tracked from development to distribution and how cold chains can be created to keep vaccines viable as they make their way to the people who need them.

On my return to the U.S., I passed through the arrivals terminal at JFK Airport, where Rotary International is running a billboard campaign showing globally recognized figures—Bill Gates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jackie Chan—posing with the legend “We Are This Close to Ending Polio.” To reinforce that point, each celebrity’s thumb and index finger frames the “this close” in a measuring gesture.

By the time I was in the taxi line, the CDC announcement was on my smartphone.

Make no mistake, the measles outbreak in the U.S. is an act of choice, of election, of a decision to get sick—or a decision by parents to put their children at risk. Fully 90% of the new cases are among people who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. And nearly all of those people are unvaccinated for personal, philosophical or religious reasons—as opposed to any medical condition that requires them to avoid vaccines. This is true too of recent outbreaks of mumps and whooping cough, and of the dangerously declining rate of vaccination in the U.S. overall. Nearly all of that folly can be blamed on the rumors and outright lies that continue to be spread about various conditions vaccines are said to cause—autism, ADHD, vaguely defined immune system disorders and on and on depending on which celebrity or health faddist is telling the tale.

Meantime, those polio campaigners? The ones who really, truly are this close to eradicating one of history’s most feared diseases? A lot of them are risking—and in some cases, losing—their lives to do their jobs. In the tribal areas of Pakistan, vaccine field workers are being attacked and killed by Taliban gunmen as they make their way on foot, into villages, with their crates of little vials that, with a few drops, can protect children for life from paralysis and death. And so other field workers take their place, some of whom will surely die too.

In one of the most telling asides in today’s CDC press release, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, commented on a paradoxical problem in diagnosing new outbreaks of measles. “Many U.S. health care providers have never seen or treated a patient with measles,” she said, “because of the nation’s robust vaccination efforts and our rapid response to outbreaks.”

That, in a phrase, is what spoiled looks like. Of course, you can bet any first year medical student could have spotted the disease a few decades ago—and the same was true with mumps and whooping cough and polio and smallpox and rubella and all of the other diseases that we don’t have to see anymore because we have, in this country at least, vaccinated them all but out of existence. What was true in the U.S. then is still true in the developing world, where those diseases and more still run riot.

The people in those countries would not play cute with disease. The people in those countries would not have the time for rumors and lies and celebrity dilettantes who take up the anti-vax cause because they’ve grown bored with the anti-carb or anti-gluten or pro-cleanse fads. Being this close to eliminating a disease is not the same as truly being done with it. That’s something all those new measles patients learned this year. And that’s something we’ll all have to keep learning until we wise up.

TIME vaccines

Lessons From the Campaign That Vaccinated 100 Million Mothers

The joy any parent feels when their child is born is one of life’s most precious moments. It is heartbreaking that every nine minutes a baby dies of maternal neonatal tetanus, or MNT. What’s surprising is that this disease is entirely preventable with a simple vaccination. Over the past 8 years, we have made tremendous strides, vaccinating over 100 million mothers around the world.

Having already eliminated MNT in 14 countries, we remain committed to continuing our efforts until we truly eliminate this fatal disease. Today, many companies are actively engaged in corporate social responsibility, but very few have been able to rival the success of 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine. A major reason for the success is the direct link between our consumers and those in need of help around the world. Families purchasing Pampers understand the direct impact they’re having on another family. The Pampers products are specially marked with UNICEF’s logo, so that consumers understand that their purchase is truly making a difference. While corporate social responsibility programs do make for good press, it’s the one’s that enable consumers to use their buying power that can be the most successful.

This particular initiative is both UNICEF’s and Procter & Gamble’s largest public-private cause-marketing program. On a recent trip to Asia, we learned we’re on the cusp of hitting a major goal: completely eliminating MNT in Indonesia. We have donated 1.2 million vaccines in that country, helping protect 400,000 mothers and children. To date, 30 out of 33 Indonesian Provinces have eliminated MNT. We are aiming to fully eliminate it in Indonesia by 2015. But with our goals, come challenges.

While the goal of 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine was always clear, how it would be implemented was not. As we have learned along the way, patience is a virtue. After some initial challenges, here’s how we’ve been doing it: At UNICEF we are able to identify teams of individuals who know how to work in remote areas of the world, and in some of the most challenging circumstances. At Pampers, we are able to reach the consumers who can provide the funding for our campaign through their regular purchases. As a result, we have generated $50 million to date, which has covered the cost of the personnel associated with the operation, and the vaccines themselves.

We truly believe one reason this program has been successful is because UNICEF has helped established a community base that has been set up to deliver the lifesaving vaccines themselves, no matter how remote the area is. We have gone to great lengths to explain the vaccination process, from the minute the vaccine is ready to administer, to its delivery, to any follow up that patients may need. Only the locals themselves can fully understand a community’s customs, religions and cultural sensitivities which later play an important part in educating the new mothers to the crucial need of having their babies immunized.

Pampers will continue to sell specially marked products to fund this campaign. But the lessons we have learned can certainly be applied to other companies looking to start or develop similar campaigns. Consumers have shown, year after year, that they’re committed to helping others around the world. Many of the fastest growing companies happen to be some of the most well-known for their corporate social responsibility efforts. This is a trend that we expect to continue for years to come, providing both an opportunity for businesses and consumers alike.

In our particular mission, our success has stemmed from the strategic fit between the mission, vision and brand equity of both partners; UNICEF’s mission to promote “survival, protection and development of children” with Pampers vision for “caring for the healthy, happy development of every baby.” But with so many challenges afflicting communities around the world, from diseases, to malnutrition, to violence and war there is a need for everyone to do more.

We ask that consumers take a moment to consider their purchasing decisions. Are you supporting brands that are making a positive difference in the lives of others? Are they producing their products in a sustainable way? If not, we encourage you to seek out a brand that does more—for you and the world that we share.

[Updated 6/4/14]

TIME National Security

CIA Won’t Use Vaccination Programs For Spying Anymore

An Obama Administration counter-terrorism adviser said the CIA has committed to stop using immunization programs as cover up for intelligence gathering operations

+ READ ARTICLE

Three years after the CIA set up a phony hepatitis vaccination program in Pakistan as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, administration officials have said that the agency will no longer use vaccination programs as a cover-up for spying.

Lisa Monaco, senior counterterrorism and homeland security adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote in a letter addressed to the deans of several prominent public health schools that the CIA would no longer use vaccination programs as a way to collect intelligence, the Guardian reports.

The administration said that under a policy established by CIA Director John Brennan in August 2013, “the Agency will make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.” The letter also said the agency “will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs.”

After it was revealed that a Pakistan doctor took part in evidence-gathering operations ahead of the Bin Laden raid, public health officials worried Pakistanis would mistrust teams distributing anti-polio vaccines.

TIME vaccines

The Anti-Vaxxers Simply Won’t Quit

Safe baby: a child in Africa receives an oral vaccine
Safe baby: a child in Africa receives an oral vaccine ranplett; Getty Images/Vetta

Even as cases of whooping cough, polio, measles and mumps soar, vaccine deniers continue to leave children and babies unprotected. Stubbornness may be part of human nature—but the price is just too high

It’s never easy to say oops. You know it if you’ve ever said something nasty during an argument and found it hard to apologize later. You know it if you’ve ever caused a fender bender on the road and been unable to say “my bad.” And you know it if you’ve ever failed to inoculate your baby against a range of disabling and deadly diseases that can be easily and harmlessly prevented with vaccines, in effect failing to perform the most basic job of parenthood, which is to keep your children safe.

What’s that? You think that under those circumstances an oops wouldn’t be hard to get out? Not so, according to a disturbing study presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver. Researchers looked at vaccination rates both before and during an outbreak of whooping cough in Washington state in 2011 and 2012, and found that even as the disease was spreading and unvaccinated children were suffering, the percentage of parents who brought their 3- to 8-month olds in for their scheduled inoculations didn’t budge.

Nope, the parents effectively said, still not persuaded.

“We have always assumed that when the risk of catching a disease is high, people will accept a vaccine that is effective at preventing the disease,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Wolf of the University of Washington, in a statement that accompanied the release of the study. “Our results may challenge that assumption.”

That says something deeply troubling not just about the outlook for childrens’ health, but about human obtuseness, particularly as outbreaks of measles strike New York City, Orange County, Calif. and elsewhere, while mumps cases spread throughout Columbus, Ohio. Despite this real-time, real-world evidence of the damage caused by the anti-vaccine crazies—who have spent the better part of 16 years peddling the fable that vaccines are filled with never-fully-specified “toxins” that cause autism and an ever-changing pu pu platter of other imaginary ills—many parents and even some doctors continue to close their eyes.

That’s a problem not just for the unprotected kids, but for everyone. If we got smoking rates in the U.S. down to just 10% of the population, we’d celebrate that fact as a great public health victory. But as virologists and epidemiologists remind us again and again and again, when 10%—or even 5%—of parents opt out of vaccines for their kids or insist on making up their own vaccination schedule, they destroy the herd immunity effect that should protect the handful of people in any population who can’t get vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons. If a virus can’t find an entry point into a community, it can never make its way to the most vulnerable members. Every parent who opts out opens one more infectious avenue.

The U.S. is not alone in playing craps with vaccine-preventable diseases. The Vancouver report was issued on the same day that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency concerning the spread of polio from Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon, and the presence of the virus in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria. The emergency did not arise because of some new, especially tenacious strain of polio. Indeed, the disease has been at the brink of eradication for a few years now, with only 160 endemic cases in three countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria—in 2013, and 257 cases in countries into which the virus was imported by carriers crossing the border. But attacks on medical field workers by militant groups in Pakistan have disrupted inoculation efforts there, and war or unrest in Syria and elsewhere have made the safe passage of vaccinators impossible.

Extremists in the Middle East and Africa are hardly motivated by the same ideas as rumor-mongers and frightened parents in the U.S. But both are committing the same moral crime, jeopardizing the health and welfare of blameless babies. It’s those babies who will pay the price—and the parents and extremists who must bear the blame.

TIME Infectious Disease

Measles Outbreaks Have Hit 13 States This Year, CDC Says

This year, the U.S. has seen the most measles outbreaks since 1996, the CDC said. Of the 129 people infected, with highest numbers in California, New York and Washington state, the majority were not vaccinated or did not know their vaccination status.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday 129 people in 13 states have been infected with the measles this year, which is the most in the first four months of a year since 1996.

34 people among the 129 infected brought the virus from other countries. The majority of those infected were not vaccinated or did not know their vaccination status. California has 58 cases of measles, New York has seen 24 and Washington state has had 13, the Washington Post reports. So far there have been no deaths reported in the outbreak.

The CDC’s report stresses the effectiveness of vaccines. Measles vaccinations have prevented 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the last 20 years, the CDC says. They’ve also saved the U.S. $295 billion in direct costs like medical expenses.

There are about 60 cases reported in the U.S. on average every year. Most Americans are vaccinated against the measles, but since the disease is still prevent in other countries, travelers can contract it.

“The health security of the United States is only as strong as the health security of all nations around the world,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. “We are all connected by the food we eat, the water we drink, and air we breathe.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser