Insider Explains Why Congress is Responsible For Return of Measles
Jun 23, 2014

SarahDespresAs 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.

She states,

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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11 responses to “Insider Explains Why Congress is Responsible For Return of Measles”

  1. reissd says:

    Anti-vaccine activists like to refer to the Burton hearings, in spite of the fact that Congress really is not a good forum for exposing scientific truths. They did a lot of damage. I’m glad Ms. Despres spoke up.

    Letting children be harmed from a preventable disease is unconscionable.

  2. Lawrence says:

    Politico is a very interesting place…….

  3. lilady says:

    Here’s the comment I posted on Politico in response to Ms Despres article:

    Thank you Ms. Despres for your fine article…and for reminding us how certain Congressional representatives have tried to destroy our vaccination programs.

  4. Sullivan (Matt Carey) says:

    Consider Generation Rescue’s very first webpage:

    “Thousands of parents, hundreds of doctors and scientists, *and several congressman* agree: The cause of autism has been found”

    They were talking about mercury in vaccines. GR was very, very focused on the autism/mercury angle and they played up the role of Congressman Burton a great deal.

    “During these investigations, numerous scientists from around the globe have testified before the committee, and have presented credible peer-reviewed research studies that indicated a direct link between the exposure of Mercury, a widely known neurotoxin, and the increasing incidences of autism.”

    – Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN)
    Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, U.S. Congress
    Head of Three Year Congressional Investigation into Mercury In Medicine
    September 8, 2004

    Burton fed a movement which has caused a lot of harm. Both to public health and to the autism communities.

  5. JGC56 says:

    Hundred’s of doctors and scientists agree that the cause of autism has been found? Why, that must be the vast majority of all doctors and scientists in active practice today!

    Oh, wait…

  6. Sullivan (Matt Carey) says:

    JGC56–then factor in the fact that these groups will exaggerate.

    Doesn’t matter who or how many agreed–they were wrong. But Burton gave these groups a huge leg up in credibility.

  7. JGC56 says:

    Think you missed my point, Sullivan. I don’t believe that Burton exaggerated at all: I think instead he (almost certainly without being aware of it) accurately noted doctors and scientists who claim the cause of autism has been found constitute an all but vanishingly small fraction of all doctors and scientists practicing medicine and conducting research today.

  8. Sullivan (Matt Carey) says:

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I understood your point. I was pointing out that even this vanishing small fraction (a few hundred over all scientists and doctors) is an exaggeration. Probably more like dozens than hundreds.

    Note that the statement is from Generation Rescue, not Congressman Burton. The point being, groups such as GR used Congressman Burton’s words and actions to legitimize their bad ideas.

  9. JGC56 says:

    I think there are enough DAN doctors, doctors embracing ‘integrative’ medicine, etc. as well as scientists (though I hesitate to use the word) such as Wakefield and the like out there that Burton’s claim of ‘hundreds’ might be accurate. You can generally round up a couple hundred people who should know better to support almost any wacky idea. My point is, given how vanishingly small fraction of the science community ‘hundreds’ represents, Burton’s statement fails even as an example of the rhetorical fallacy argument from numbers.

  10. newsgaadi99 says:

    At the moment my only thought is for Luis and his family, because they will face a very difficult period.I have always considered unequivocal the disciplinary interventions by the competent bodies, but at the same time I believe that the proposed formula is excessive.

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