Health officials did not mince their words over anti-vaxxers on Wednesday as they addressed the current outbreak of measles in the US.
During a congressional hearing, heads of federal health agencies confirmed that the US has counted more measles cases in the first two months of this year than in all of 2017.
So far, 159 cases of measles have been confirmed in 10 states, with severe outbreaks affecting the Pacific Northwest and New York.
Dr Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health, says the measles vaccine is highly effective and the fact that cases are on the rise ‘is really unacceptable’.
Dr Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, says the measles vaccine is highly effective and the fact that cases are on the rise ‘is really unacceptable’ (file image)
The vaccine is about 97 percent effective. But those who are unvaccinated have a 90 percent chance of catching measles if they breathe the virus in, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr Fauci says his primary goal is to stop the spreading of misinformation about the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
He believes this has led to many parents becoming vaccine hesitant and, therefore, raising their child’s risk of catching life-threatening diseases.
‘Misinformation is an important problem,’ Dr Fauci said, according to NBC News.
‘The spread of misinformation that leads people to make poor choices, despite their well-meaning, is a major contributor to the problem we’re discussing.’
NBC News reported that the hearing – held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce – became a bit rowdy.
In fact, state Rep Diana DeGette (D-CO) stopped proceedings twice after people in the audience began to shout over the speakers.
Last month, officials in Washington declared a public health emergency as 65 people in Clark County and one person in King County have fallen ill with measles.
Fifty-seven cases are in those who have not been vaccinated. Forty-seven cases are in children aged 10 and younger.
New York has seen some of the highest numbers with 121 people in Brooklyn and Queens and 139 people in Rockland County falling ill since October 2018 – almost all in Orthodox Jewish communities.
‘When you get below a certain level of vaccination in the community, that’s how you get outbreaks,’ Dr Fauci told CBS News. ‘That’s been scientifically proven year after year.’
This is a concept known as ‘herd immunity’, when the vast majority of a community – between 80 and 95 percent – becomes immune so that, if a disease is introduced, it is unable to spread.
Therefore, those who are unable to be vaccinated, including the ill, very young and very old, are protected.
The first measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 and, by 2000, it was considered to be eradicated in the US.
But Washington is one of 18 states that allows non-medical exemptions for vaccines and has some of the highest rates of unimmunized children in the nation.
Some anti-vaxxers protest Big Pharma, and some say vaccines are made from unnatural and unsafe chemicals and that they would rather take their chances on their kids getting treated if or when they get sick.
Others argue that vaccines overload a child’s immune system or that natural immunity is better.
Then, of course, there is the argument that vaccines are linked to autism, a claim that has been debunked by scientists.
Dr Fauci told CBS News that the purported health risks of immunizations are ‘purely on fabrication’.
‘That’s been proven. There is no association whatsoever between the measles vaccine and autism,’ he said.
‘The overwhelming scientific evidence over many years and decades indicate that the vaccine, particularly the measles vaccine is very safe.’
Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by the measles virus.
When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets are sprayed into the air, where other people can inhale them and are then infected.
Symptoms present themselves between 10 to 14 days after infection and include fever, cough, runny nose and a total-body skin rash.
Once common, the disease is now rare due to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
The CDC recommends children receive the first dose at 12 to 15 months old and the second dose at four to six years old.
Before the measles vaccine was available, more than 500,000 cases were diagnosed in the US every year, with about 500 annual deaths.
In 2018, 349 cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia, the CDC reported.
It is the second-greatest number since measles was considered eradicated in the US in 2000.