Health Commissioner Issues Vaccine Recommendations
Albany, July 16 – The New York State Department of Health today announced two new childhood vaccine recommendations based on information from Federal health officials and a national medical advisory group.
Due to concerns that there may be an increased risk of intussusception (a type of bowel obstruction) in children during the first several weeks after receiving the rotavirus vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended that health providers suspend the use of the rotavirus vaccine until further information is available. Study results suggesting the increased risk are preliminary and investigations are ongoing.
Intussusception is a type of bowel obstruction that occurs when one part of the bowel folds in on itself. Signs of intussusception may include persistent vomiting, bloody or black stools, and/or severe abdominal pain. Parents should promptly contact their health care provider if their child develops these symptoms and has recently been vaccinated against rotavirus infection, the most common cause of diarrhea in infants in the United States.
New York State Health officials also are endorsing recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding the vaccination of infants against the hepatitis B virus. Earlier this week, both the AAP and the United States Public Health Service issued a statement supporting the Food and Drug Administration's request to drug manufacturers to reduce or eliminate thimerosal, a mercury–containing preservative, in vaccines. Unless a thimerosal–free product can be used, infants born to mothers who are not infected with hepatitis B should wait to start the hepatitis B vaccination series until six months of age, rather than getting their first hepatitis B shot between birth and two months as previously was recommended.
"Nothing is more important than the well–being of our children, and our advice about hepatitis B vaccination represents a cautious and conservative approach to increase the already high margin of vaccine safety," said State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D. "As a pediatrician by training, and after considerable review of all the available information, I have decided that the AAP recommendation is the most prudent course of action because our children's health and safety must be our first and utmost priority."
Dr. Novello said that infants whose mothers are infected with the hepatitis B virus or who have not been tested for the virus should continue to be vaccinated starting at birth according to the 1999 Recommended Immunization Schedule. Once adequate supplies of thimerosal–free vaccine are available, health care providers should resume the current immunization schedule and administer the hepatitis B vaccine to all infants during the newborn period.
Thimerosal has been used in vaccines since the 1930's to prevent bacterial contamination. There is no data to suggest that children have been harmed by the current levels of mercury in vaccines. However, officials feel that the removal of thimerosal from vaccines is prudent in order to ensure that children's exposure to mercury is as low as possible.
Despite the new recommendations about rotavirus vaccine and the hepatitis B vaccine series, the Health Commissioner strongly urged parents to continue to protect their children from vaccine–preventable diseases by ensuring that their children are fully immunized. The known risks from vaccine–preventable diseases make it imperative that parents make sure that their children are appropriately immunized.7/16/99–74 OPA