Merely a decade ago, measles was thought to be eliminated from this country. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an outbreak with nearly 200 cases in 17 states. The cause of the outbreak has been much discussed and debated with even comedians and politicians weighing in. While the causes are multi-faceted, the public’s misunderstanding of the safety of vaccines is undoubtedly a major contributor. Our role as leaders in infectious disease is to send a strong, clear message not only about the safety of vaccines, but of the importance of universal vaccination in order to protect the most vulnerable, including those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.|
A recent study in Pediatrics found that more than 70 percent of pediatricians have agreed to parents’ requests to delay vaccinations, even though most believe that straying from the recommended immunization schedule puts children at risk. If even our colleagues in the medical community are feeling pressure to veer from the recommended vaccine schedule, it’s clear that as infectious diseases specialists, we must continue our efforts to spread scientifically sound information to members of the public. Parents are bombarded with information about vaccination from multiple sources including friends, the internet and social media. Some of the information is correct, but much of it is not, and unfortunately, we continue to see the spread of misinformation from studies that have been debunked and refuted over and again.
IDSA supports universal immunization of children, adolescents, and adults, on a schedule in accordance with recommendations and standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, IDSA strongly encourages states to enact and enforce laws requiring children to be fully immunized as a requirement for school or day care, with exemptions allowed only for validated medical contraindications. Most states currently allow religious and personal belief exemptions; in those states, physician counselling on the safety and efficacy of vaccines is the most important tool to encourage vaccine uptake.
I encourage you to communicate with your colleagues in pediatrics and primary care about the importance of ensuring that parents make an informed choice based on the best medical and scientific evidence. As leaders in infectious diseases, we should raise our voice and lend our assistance to counter false and misleading information. The ongoing measles outbreak presents a stark reminder of the pre-vaccine era. It is up to all of us to ensure that children continue to enjoy protection against measles and other scourges of the past. It would be a tragedy to let unsubstantiated fear trump the continued promise of one of medicine’s most powerful tools to protect the lives and health of our children.
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