Insider Explains Why Congress is Responsible For Return of Measles
Jun 23, 2014
As a long-time staffer for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Sarah Despres knows a bit about Congress. As counsel working on public health issues for the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee for over a decade, Despres also knows a lot about immunization policy.
So why does she believe that Congress is responsible for the return of measles?
Despres’ recent op-ed published in POLITICO Magazine’s Public Arena section is based upon her experiences as a Congressional insider and makes a bold declaration that is very convincing.
“Public health has taken a giant, 20-year step back, and we have Congress to thank”, she explains.
Her no-holds barred article connects the dots between a stunning Congressional declaration in 2000, in which measles was believed to have been eliminated in the United States, to our current day concerns over the highest resurgence of measles cases in the U.S. since 1994 (as of today there are 514 reported cases in 2014). She describes how our nation’s immunization program, which was once considered the crown jewel of public health, has suffered from repeated attacks. Congressional members have fallen prey to unscientific theories at high-profile congressional hearings and inflammatory rhetoric has skewed the public’s opinions of life-saving vaccines. And she faults Congress for not taking appropriate action to fix the problems they have essentially created.
What is most admirable about Despres’ article is not just in the evidence she presents, but in the purpose behind it. She is not concerned about being politically correct. Rather, she is assertive about demanding public accountability for an issue that she finds personally and socially concerning – an issue we should all find personally and socially concerning.
Her article drives home the point that what Congress says and more importantly, doesn’t say – matters. Hearings held 14 years ago have set the stage for a disease comeback of dangerous proportions, and Sarah Depres is one woman who is bold enough to declare that Congress take responsibility.
Congress has an opportunity now to remedy its previous mistakes. It should use the return of measles to demonstrate its commitment to protect the public from vaccine-preventable diseases and give the CDC adequate resources to fund immunization programs. But Congress also has the bully pulpit. Committees can hold hearings to correct the record. Members should record public-service announcements, reminding parents to get their children and other family members vaccinated. And members should participate in immunization clinics in their districts as a show of support for the local public-health departments who are on the front lines preventing outbreaks.
I suggest we should all make similar demands on Congress and request that they help rectify a dangerous situation.
If you agree, please share Sarah Depres’ Politico article and send a similar message to your own Members of Congress. It’s time we speak up in order to put measles back on the eradication list.
Sarah Despres is an Every Child By Two Board Member. She is also a Director of Government Relations for the Pew Charitable Trusts specializing in health related projects and a member of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahhdespres.
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