In the wake of recent measles outbreaks in Oregon and Washington state, the federal government may intervene if states don’t tighten restrictions on parental exemptions for childhood vaccinations, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Axios.
All states allow medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements, but some also allow parents to opt out for religious or philosophical reasons. “Some states are engaging in such wide exemptions that they’re creating the opportunity for outbreaks on a scale that is going to have national implications,” Gottlieb said.
Although measles rates in the United States remain low, the disease is popping up in areas with high numbers of unvaccinated children. Washington and Oregon are among 17 states that allow vaccine exemptions for personal, moral, or other beliefs. Washington has reported at least 62 cases of measles in the last few weeks, and Oregon has had four.
The Washington House of Representatives’ Health Care and Wellness Committee approved a bill that would end personal and philosophical exemptions in the state for the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella. An additional Senate bill would get rid of such exemptions for all school-required vaccines. California did away with personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015 after a measles outbreak affected 147 people and spread across the United States and into Canada. And Vermont nixed its personal belief exemption the same year.
A hundred cases of measles in a population of 320 million people does not constitute a public health emergency, said Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center. “[These cases] should not be used to justify eliminating the legal right to exercise informed consent to vaccination,” she told Axios.
Measles can cause severe and potentially fatal complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. As many as 1 out of every 20 children who get measles develops pneumonia. —J.B.