Public health officials: Get measles vaccines

Public health officials at a congressional hearing on Tuesday implored parents to vaccinate their children against the measles.

Despite the recently politicized topic of measles vaccinations, its benefits far outweighed any conceivable costs, officials from U.S. health organizations told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

"There's no doubt if you do a risk benefit of the vaccine versus the disease, I think it's very, very clear that you have one of the most highly effective vaccines against any virus, and you have a highly contagious disease, measles, that can have serious complications," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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"So to me it's really a slam-dunk what the decision should be," Fauci said, reflecting on parents' vaccination considerations.

And while disease infections are far less prevalent now than 40 years ago, officials had declared the U.S. free of the virus at the beginning of the millennium. This year, there have already been more than 100 recorded cases, and officials attributed this resurgence to a lack of vaccinations.

"I think that parents' decisions to vaccinate their kids are related to their sense of the threat and their sense of the value of the intervention," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, who directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Many parents don't realize these diseases are still out there and if their children aren't vaccinated they'll come back."

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Still, Schuchat said that a lack of sufficient public education may have contributed to the vaccinated children. "Most parents who weren't vaccinating didn't realize measles was still around and could be dangerous," she said.

This point needs to be emphasized, she explained, because the vaccine has public health and economic benefits for the country.

"Right now we know that the vaccines we're giving are saving lives and saving money—for each dollar we put in we get about $10 back for the childhood immunization series," she told the subcommittee.

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Several of the congressional representatives at the hearing spoke up in favor of vaccinations, with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., saying "this is far too serious an issue to be treated as a political football."

There is no federal mandate for vaccinations, the officials said, but states may require a certain level of protection to enter schools or childcare.

This policy contributed to the massive decline in measles cases beginning in the 1980s, Schuchat said.

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The hearing included testimony from Dr.Kare Midthun—director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—and Robin Robinson, who directs the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

When asked by Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania if they agreed with contemporary scientific literature that there is no proven connection between modern vaccinations and autism, all four witnesses said they did.