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Federal Government May Take Action To Reduce Vaccine Exemptions Amid Measles Outbreak

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicates that the government may need to step in if states continue to allow excessive vaccination exemptions, which may endanger the public health. 

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made the comments in an interview with Axios earlier this month, addressing concerns about increasing reports of measles outbreaks in the U.S.

According to the report, Gottlieb has concerns that too many states have relaxed laws, which may be resulting in an avoidable tragedy. The measles outbreaks have occurred in several states, including an outbreak in New York that has sickened 200 people since October, making it one of the largest outbreaks there in decades.

Investigators indicate the outbreaks seem to be centered on areas with high rates of vaccine exemptions. Gottlieb said that the risk to public health caused by too many such exemptions may require the federal government to step in. However, he has not given details on what kinds of actions the federal government is considering taking.

All but three states allow parents to opt out of mandatory childhood vaccines due to religious reasons. However, 17 states also allow parents not to have their children vaccinated due to personal beliefs. This is largely in connection to what is known as the “anti-vaxxer movement”, involving individuals who believe that vaccines may cause a number of health risks for children, including autism.

While these claims have been widely disproven and discredited, and at least one study was even proven to be fraudulent and retracted, the movement continues to persist on social media and among groups of Americans.

Most of the measles cases in Washington state, where Governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency, occurred in Clark County, which only has a 70% measle vaccination rate for 19 to 35-month-old children. To be effective, and to support what’s known as herd immunity, experts say vaccination rates should be be at least 93%.

Herd immunity occurs when enough of a population is inoculated against a disease so that even those who, for medical or other reasons, cannot get the vaccination are also protected, essentially smothering the illness due to a lack of potential carriers.

Measles Cases Up Worldwide

A report (PDF) this month by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that measles cases tripled worldwide in 2018 compared to 2017.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in an infected person’s nose and throat mucus. The infection can be spread by simply being near someone, due to its airborne ability to spread. Other common ways for the virus to spread are by individuals coughing or sneezing in the general direction of other or onto commonly touched areas.

Symptoms of the virus can take from 7 to 18 days to show before knowing you have the virus. Those symptoms can include high fever, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, hacking cough, and in some cases the lymph nodes in the neck may swell. Other symptoms can include diarrhea and sore red eyes. As the previously mentioned symptoms start to dissipate, the second phase of symptoms consists of a red rash that covers the entire body including bumps inside the infected individual’s mouth.

Measles had been nearly wiped out in the U.S., but health experts suggest that it is now making a comeback due to anti-vaccination fears and rhetoric.

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