- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Congressional lawmakers found a rare slice of bipartisan agreement over health policy Tuesday, saying well-educated parents who refuse to immunize their children against measles and other diseases are eroding decades of medical progress in America.

A week after Republican contenders for president stumbled over questions about vaccine and parental choice, lawmakers on the Senate Health Committee united in rebuking those who balk at childhood immunizations due to discredited studies that had 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.

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

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said the 121 cases of measles documented this year amount to a step backward for modern medicine, while Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, said the outbreak is a “wake-up call” for younger American adults who didn’t have to confront measles as a child.

Congress is delving into the vaccination debate in response to a spate of measles cases that largely has been traced 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, officials said.

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

Dr. Schuchat testified the U.S. saw more measles cases in 2014 than any year since 1994, and that a 1998 medical-journal study that tied vaccines to autism has been “totally discredited” and “fraudulent.”

She said there have been more measles cases to date in 2015 than in most full years since 2000, when homegrown measles was officially eradicated within the U.S.

Lawmakers and CDC officials are scrambling to win the public relations battle over vaccinations in the face of a vocal “anti-vaxxer” movement that puts a healthy lifestyle over actual immunization to prevent certain diseases.

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

Early last week, Sen. Rand Paul said for the most part vaccines should be voluntary, later saying on CNBC he’s heard of “tragic cases” of normal children who wound up with mental disorders after vaccines.

The Kentucky Republican then clarified he thinks everyone should be encouraged get vaccines.

Mr. Paul sits on the health committee but did not appear at the hearing to question witnesses.

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.”

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow for religious exemptions to school immunizations requirements. Twenty states provide philosophical exemptions for those who object on personal or moral grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said states should raise the bar for acquiring a philosophical exemption. For instance, states could formally warn parents about the risks, or require them to get a doctor’s certification to forgo the vaccine.

“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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