Photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg
The resurgence of measles across the United States is provoking a hostile reaction against critics of the vaccine, namely Congressional hearings on the spread of misinformation about the vaccine to measures that would make it harder for parents not to vaccinate their children.
In Washington State, where the most serious measles epidemic of the last two decades has made nearly 70 people sick and costing over a million dollars, the lawmaker of Washington has been ill. State took two measures that would prohibit parents from availing themselves of personal or philosophical exemptions for not vaccinating their school-aged children. the children. Both have bipartite support despite strong anti-vaccination sentiment in some parts of the state.
In Arizona, in Iowa and Minnesota, lawmakers have for the first time introduced similar measures. Efforts resulted in a moving, sometimes ugly reaction from those protesting what they saw as an attempt to trample on their rights. Opponents of the Arizona bill, who died quickly, described the holocaust principle as stricter requirements for vaccination and compared the sponsor of the bill, who is Jewish. , to a Nazi.
In Vermont, lawmakers are trying to remove the religious exemption granted by the state four years after the elimination of the philosophical exemption. In New Jersey, where lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to tighten religious exemptions, a bill to repeal it entirely was recently amended at the general assembly level.
While it is too early in the legislature to say how much state effort to strengthen vaccine exemptions will be enacted, some public health advocates say the eruption of diseases that can be prevented by vaccination changes the public's thinking.
"The wave is starting to go back," said Michelle Mello, professor of law and health research and policy at Stanford University.
Diane Peterson, of the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit group from Minnesota, said that "there is a growing consensus for state authorities to take the bold decision of" 39 require all children to be vaccinated, with the sole exception of those to whom the vaccine can not be administered. " medical reasons. "
Faced with growing public pressure, the websites that have been the basis for the misleading claims of the anti-vaccination movement are also making changes. Pinterest has blocked all vaccine research to stop misinformation, while Facebook is considering removing anti-vaccination content from its recommendations. YouTube added that it was also shooting ads for anti-vaccine videos, saying that they were violating its policy against "harmful or dangerous" acts.
The US Senate and House scheduled rare bipartite hearings this week and the next to investigate the reasons for the recent outbreaks.
"If hesitation to vaccination persists – or even increases – it could seriously compromise these important advances," Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., And Patty Murray, D-Wash., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Welfare and Democratic Ranking – wrote to federal health officials .
All of these actions are taking place against a backdrop of growing global concern over vaccine hesitancy, while measles cases have increased due to gaps in immunization coverage. For the first time, the World Health Organization ranked vaccine hesitation among the top 10 global threats in 2019.
Since January 1, no deaths from measles have been reported in the United States, but the virus can be fatal, especially for children. According to WHO, nearly 1,000 people, mostly children, died of the disease in Madagascar this year, providing a window into how quickly the disease can devastate a country with low immunization rates.
In Europe, measles cases reached their highest level in 20 years, with 60,000 cases and 72 deaths. A quarter of them are found in Italy, where anti-vaccine groups allied with populist politicians have secured the passing of a law to end the mandatory vaccines – repealed law shortly after due to the outbreak of measles cases.
Such fears will not go away soon.
Barbara Loe Fisher, who heads one of the oldest and most established groups, the National Vaccine Information Center, said Barbara Loe Fisher.
"You can not silence people and force them to obey a single solution when the risk is not shared equitably," she said, adding that people had different genetic risks.
She argues that parents should have the right to make voluntary decisions without their children being denied school education. "We consider that there is parental rights, a human rights issue," Fisher said.
While 11 states are considering draft legislation to limit or eliminate vaccine exemptions, his group supports 60 of the 141 state vaccine measures, "which is the largest number of bills we have. supported during a legislative session, "she said.
Groups such as Fisher formulate their message in terms of individual rights, insisting that it is the parents, not the government, who should decide to vaccinate their children – an argument defended by wealthy and well-educated parents who resonate with Liberals and Conservatives.
Those responsible for protecting public health against the fact that vaccinations are designed to protect whole communities, not just individuals – especially community members who can not get vaccinated, such as young children, pregnant women and those whose immune system is compromised. When vaccination rates fall below a certain level – between 93% and 95% for measles – vulnerable people are at much higher risk. This is one reason that has repeatedly persuaded the judges to maintain mandatory vaccination programs.
And the implementation of these mandates led to the elimination of measles in the United States in 2000.
While the public memory of the terror caused by the measles epidemics has faded, doubts about vaccines have increased – often fueled by false assertions associating shooting with autism. According to a study conducted in 2014, the use of non-medical exemptions for preschool children increased by 19% nationwide.
This has created pockets such as that of Clark County, the epicenter of the Washington State epidemic, where rates have fallen well below the threshold required to create community immunity.
Since the beginning of this year, 159 measles cases have been reported in the United States, more than the total reported for 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All are related to travelers who brought back measles from other countries, such as Israel and Ukraine.
New York has struggled to contain the largest measles epidemic it has seen in decades. More than 200 people have fallen ill since it began in October. Texas is battling an epidemic that has infected nine people, including four in Harris County, including Houston.
After the measles outbreak prompted Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, to declare the state of emergency in the state of Washington, Portland, Oregon, a state of emergency. School where Rachel Hall's son is a kindergarten child, told students, staff members and parents that they would probably not be immune. be required to stay at home for two to three weeks if a case of measles is confirmed. The school has a large number of unvaccinated children.
Hall had hesitated to give the shots to his first child. "I was trying to do the natural birth thing, hippie-dippie," she said. But she has since immunized her two children.
Nevertheless, measures to impose stricter vaccine requirements are strongly opposed. In Washington, nearly 1,000 people attended the public hearing last week on a Senate bill that would eliminate all personal exemptions for all vaccines. Most were opposed to the bill.
Jill Collier, a registered nurse, told lawmakers that she was against the bill because she thought it would hurt the doctor-patient relationship. "We can not impose an injection on a child and take his education hostage for non-compliance," she said.
Senator Annette Cleveland, a Democrat whose neighborhood is at the epicenter of the epidemic, has announced that this measure would reduce the threat of exposure by 75%.
"I do not know how we got to the point today where we are no longer accepting the miracle that vaccines continue to eradicate the disease," Cleveland said in an interview.
Anti-vaccine stories are particularly effective on social networks because personal stories and sensational content play better than just factual recitation of scientific facts, according to a study last year. Although anti-vaccine advocates are a small minority, they may seem to be the majority on social media.
And anti-vaccine activists are also learning to use their strength in the public arena. A growing number of people attended public meetings of a national vaccine advisory group, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which makes recommendations to the CDC and meets three times a year in Atlanta .
The Facebook page of a newly formed group, Inundate the CDC ACIP, published a photo of nearly two dozen people at the October meeting above the caption "Warriors of Truth About vaccination go down at the ACIP CDC meeting ".
Lynette Marie Barron, who runs the Facebook page, said that she had started by creating a way to give voice to parents like her who claim that their children have been hurt by a vaccine.
"We want to bring them the stories and science that they refuse to consider," said Barron, 38, of Pell City, Ala.
More than 400 people registered to attend the next immunization committee meeting on Wednesday.