WASHINGTON – The head of the US Food and Drug Administration has said that if states do not need more schoolchildren to get vaccinated, the federal government may need to step in.
Almost all states allow children to go to school even if their parents choose not to be vaccinated. These vaccine exemptions are particularly popular in the state of Washington, where a measles outbreak erupted last month and sickened at least 67 people in four states. And New York has been trying to contain its biggest epidemic in decades, which began in October and sickened more than 200 people.
"Some states apply such exemptions to the point of creating epidemics of a magnitude that will have national consequences," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday in an interview with CNN.
If "some states continue on the path that they follow, I think they're going to force the hand of the federal health agencies," he added.
Gottlieb's proposal for the federal government and vaccines was first reported by Axios.
The commissioner was vague about when he thought the federal government should act and what exactly should be done. "You can impose certain rules on what is permissible or not with regard to the authorization of exemptions," he said.
He added that he hoped that the measles outbreak would make state officials aware of the need to strengthen exemptions.
Forty-seven states allow parents to withdraw from childhood vaccines for religious reasons. Of these, 17, including Washington, allow parents not to participate because they believe that vaccines violate their personal or philosophical convictions.
The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups have long said that states should get rid of all exemptions except when a vaccine would cause medical harm to a child.
Gottlieb said he was "deeply skeptical" of all exemptions, with the exception of medical exemptions.
The reactions to Gottlieb's statements were mixed.
"This is fantastic news," said Dr. Adam Ratner, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone. "I think some of the states might need that kind of pressure."
Bill Zedler, a representative of the Republican State in Texas, does not agree.
"It's a horrible idea," said Zedler, who fought to eliminate religious and personal exemptions in his state.
"That's why we have different laws in each state, so citizens of that state can decide how they want to manage things," he added.
Dr. Richard Pan, pediatrician and senator from the State of California, said that, while welcoming national leadership in this area, he was concerned about the legality of the federal government's transfer of drugs. an area governed by state laws.
"Traditionally, entry requirements to the school were the responsibility of the states. A constitutional challenge could therefore arise if the federal government tried to legislate these educational requirements, "he said.
Pan, who, four years ago, successfully led an effort to eliminate personal and religious exemptions from the vaccine in his country, said he thought national leaders could take a different approach than suggested by Gottlieb to increase vaccination rates.
On Tuesday, he sent a letter to Dr. Jerome Adams, a US surgeon general, to step up his efforts for parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children.
"As a doctor of our country, I urge you to launch a call for action on vaccine hesitation in the United States and make this crisis a public health priority," wrote Pan.
Pan warned Adams against social media campaigns to deter parents from getting vaccinated.
"Our country needs your leadership to end this attack on the health of our country by fighting the spread of misinformation about vaccines, which leads to unwarranted hesitation about vaccines," he said. -he writes.
In a statement to CNN, Adams said that he "had always championed the use of vaccines."
He added that "the data indicates that states with larger exemption laws have a higher number of unvaccinated residents, which predisposes them to the development of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as that measles ".