- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Congressional lawmakers said Tuesday that well-educated parents who refuse to immunize their children against measles and other diseases are eroding decades of medical progress in America, delivering a bipartisan show of unity after top Republican presidential contenders last week stumbled over the issue.

Members of the Senate Health Committee implicitly rebuked parents who’ve refused to vaccinate their children based on discredited studies that linked the shots to autism or other serious disorders.

“Parents should know that all of the credible scientific evidence suggests that modern vaccines are safe, modern vaccines are effective and modern vaccines are our best chance of protecting our children from diseases that can kill them. Is that right?” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat.

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“That’s right,” replied Anne Schuchat, director of the immunization center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says it’s recorded 121 measles cases in 17 states and the District of Columbia this year, many of them traced to unvaccinated persons who were exposed during visits to the Disneyland theme park in California.

The swift-moving outbreak likely started with a traveler who became infected overseas and brought measles to the U.S., and many of the affected people were either not vaccinated or unsure of their immunization status.

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“This year’s outbreak of measles demonstrates how interconnected we are,” Dr. Schuchat said.

In 2014, the U.S. recorded 644 cases of measles — more than in any year since 1994. Homegrown measles was officially eradicated within the U.S. in 2000.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said the uptick is a setback for modern medicine, while Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, said the Disneyland outbreak is a “wake up call” for younger generations that never had to confront measles.

The CDC is scrambling to win the public relations battle over vaccinations, after pockets of the country relied on discredited studies to launch the “anti-vaxxer” movement.

Witnesses told the Senate Tuesday that there’s been an uptick in exemptions from school vaccination requirements, which they said chips away at the “herd immunity” that insulates Americans from measles. That endangers babies who cannot be immunized until their first birthday, the witnesses said.

Opposition to vaccines spans the political divide. Liberal conclaves in California spurred the movement, while Republican contenders for president last week seemed to highlight parental choice, before clarifying that they support vaccination.

Early last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said during an overseas trip to England this week that he vaccinated his kids, but that government should strike a balance so parents have a say in the issue. His office later clarified that “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

Sen. Rand Paul said vaccines should generally be voluntary, saying he’s heard of “tragic cases” of normal children who wound up with mental disorders after vaccines. But he clarified his remarks, saying he thinks everyone should be encouraged get vaccines.

Mr. Paul sits on the health committee but did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing.

Twenty states allow exemptions from student-vaccination requirements for parents who object on personal or moral grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow for either religious or philosophical exemptions to school immunization requirements.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said Tuesday he wants states to make it harder for parents to get non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

He said he is working up legislation that would provide states with unspecified incentives to increase the amount of information they provide to parents about the risk of foregoing the shots, before granting a philosophical exemption.

“The studies are pretty clear that the more information that you give, the less likely that people will take the exemption,” Mr. Murphy said.

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