Fake news is nothing new to vaccine advocates.
For years we’ve been countering vaccine misinformation from a large number of sites such as Mercola, Natural News, Age of Autism and dozens of others. They each have their own way of claiming that vaccine risks outweigh their benefits, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence from experts around the world that says otherwise.
Despite the fact that these sites fail to provide evidence to back up their false claims, the misinformation they routinely publish is widely circulated on social media and it’s likely that their efforts can contribute to the doubts that some Americans have about the safety and efficacy of today’s vaccines.
This is why day after day, and year after year, countless organizations like Every Child By Two, work hard to provide the public with evidence-based information about vaccines through informative websites like Vaccinate Your Family, and social media accounts like the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and @ShotofPrev Twitter account.
But this week, fake vaccine news has entered an entirely new realm and it is rather concerning.
Yesterday I woke to such headlines as, ‘Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website’ and ‘President Trump Signed an Executive Order Banning Childhood Vaccinations for 90 Days’.
These, and other outrageous stories that are circulating on the internet, signal a new level of hysteria that is dangerous for us all.
While it is comforting to know that these articles were irresponsibly inaccurate, I’m still left questioning the motives and intent behind these headlines. What were the the authors’ and publishers’ hoping to achieve? Read more…
The Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) recently examined the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies. They tracked progress and vulnerabilities, and included a review of state and federal public health preparedness policies. In their report titled Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, they found that 26 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower on 10 key indicators of public health preparedness.
As Every Child By Two continues to report on the State of the ImmUnion, we’ve asked Trust for America’s Health to elaborate on the vaccine section of their report in the following guest post co-authored by Dara Alpert Lieberman, MPP, Senior Government Relations Manager and Albert Lang, Senior Communications Manager.
The Importance of Vaccines Can Never be Overstated
“Some of the greatest public health successes of the past century — including the worldwide eradication of smallpox and the elimination of polio, measles and rubella in the United States — are the result of successful vaccination programs.”
Yet, somewhere along the way we lost our wonder in the awe-inspiring results vaccines produce.
A recent model estimated that, from 1994-2013, the Vaccines for Children program prevented as many as 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths at a net savings of $1.38 trillion in societal costs. And, each year, we know that three million lives are saved because vaccines exist and are administered. According to the CDC:
- Nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
- More than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921, before there was a vaccine. Only one case of diphtheria has been reported to CDC since 2004.
- An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected 12.5 million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000 miscarriages. In 2012, 9 cases of rubella were reported to CDC.
If you think this is hyperbole, remember that we effectively eliminated measles in the United States in 2000, yet, since 2014, we have experienced a resurgent number of measles cases, largely among people who were unvaccinated.
In our recent report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, we found that just 10 states vaccinated at least half of their population against the seasonal flu.
We like to use this as a bit of a proxy indicator. Basically, if we can’t vaccine a large portion of the population for something that is more or less the norm, what are the odds we could quickly vaccinate a majority of the population during a pandemic. For example, if there was a vaccine for Zika, would the nation been able to dispense it?
Another lesson we can draw from vaccination rates: when we become complacent, our preparedness suffers. We can’t let vaccine complacency continue. To improve vaccination rates, TFAH’s report included policy recommendations such as: Read more…
2015 promises to be a big year for vaccine policy.
Back in January and February the United States saw a rise in measles cases as a result of an outbreak that originated at the Disneyland amusement park in California. As a result, parents, providers and public health professionals began raising concerns about the dangerous risks of disease, the misinformation that has been persuading people not to vaccinate, and the rising number of exemptions parents have been filing to allow their children to skip school mandated vaccines. Soon state legislators were being encouraged to take the steps necessary to protect daycare and school aged children from vaccine preventable diseases with new, stronger immunization policies.
The request was pretty straightforward.
States need immunization policies that will help preserve and protect our public health, and every child deserves the right to attend school in an environment that is free from preventable diseases.
The results have been both encouraging and exhausting.
Many states, such as Vermont, have since passed new legislation that will help boost school vaccination rates by either restricting philosophical exemptions, or requiring parents to discuss the risks of not vaccinating with a health care provider prior to getting an approved exemption. Just last night, the New York State Assembly passed a bill 105-28 that will require seventh and twelfth graders to receive a meningococcal vaccine and now the bill will head to the governor’s desk. And there are dozens of other states that are considering new policies.
When it comes to immunization policy, it takes an enormous coordination of effort to educate legislators on the issues and get a bill to become law.
One state that has received a great deal of attention lately is California and Senate Bill 277. If approved, SB277 would remove the personal belief exemption option from California’s school immunization statute. The bill has already passed the Senate with a 25-10 vote in May, and cleared another impressive hurdle last week by winning a 12-6 vote in the Assembly Health Committee. Despite the encouraging outcomes so far, supporters of the bill will tell you that the outcome is still uncertain.
The next challenge is a vote by the full Assembly, and then hopefully the bill will arrive on the Governor’s desk. Read more…
California Senate Bill 277 would remove the Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) option from the school and child care enrollment requirements and require schools to publicly provide information about their immunization rates. Last week the first hearing of the bill passed the Senate Health Committee in a 6-2 vote. The bill now faces an Education Committee hearing on April 15th at 9am before potentially moving to a Senate floor vote.
But what happens to this bill doesn’t just pertain to parents in California. What happens in California is important to every parent across the country and here’s why…
Unlike Vegas, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California.
Consider the ongoing measles outbreak that is linked to the Disneyland Resort. What began as a single case of measles in a popular tourist location in Anaheim, California quickly spread to 7 states and into both Canada and Mexico. While it’s fascinating to see the dynamics of how diseases spread, this situation illustrates how an outbreak of an infectious disease in one location can quickly spread across the country in a matter of weeks.
As the number of measles cases climbed, healthcare providers and public health professionals grew increasingly concerned. And parents with infants too young to be immunized, and parents of children who are immunocompromised – like Jennifer Hibben-White and Dr. Tim Jacks – grew increasingly angry. The result has been a surge in state bills aimed at tightening school vaccine exemption policies.
School vaccine policies are governed by the states.
What parents may not realize, is that each state governs their own school vaccine requirements. In fact, Every Child By Two was founded in 1991 by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former Fist Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers as a response to a U.S. measles epidemic which sickened more than 55,000 individuals, hospitalized over 11,000 and killed more than 120 people, including young children. In response to this outbreak, the two co-founders traveled the entire nation to alert people about immunization concerns. As a result, they’ve been credited with the passage of laws mandating school-age vaccination requirements in every state and the establishment of immunization coalitions that continue to operate in most states.
While every state allows for valid medical exemptions to vaccinations, states differ as to whether they will allow personal belief or religious exemptions (though very few religions actually oppose vaccines).
Additionally, the procedures by which a parent can obtain an exemption for their child also vary by state. In most states, it can be as easy as a parent signing a piece of paper. In fact, filing an exemption is often much easier than fulfilling the requirement of getting vaccinated. Therefore, it’s presumed that exemptions rates may be on the rise partly because parents are becoming increasingly aware of just how easy they are to get.
Ultimately, the states are accountable for the number of school vaccination exemptions. However, it’s the persistent efforts of vaccine critics that continually encourage parents to refuse vaccines that may be responsible. In fact, there are various websites and forums that are known to assist parents in navigating exemption requirements.
So now, concerned about outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough, and amidst evidence that the current measles outbreak has been driven by those who refuse vaccines, state legislators are looking to address the matter through the introduction of new immunization related bills. There are eight states (CA, MD, OK, VT, WA, NC, ME and RI) with bills that are trying to remove personal belief or religious exemptions. There are four states (CT, NJ, NM and TX) looking to tighten the rules that apply to religious exemptions. There are six states (CO, TX, IL, MN, PA, and OR) trying to add some kind of educational component to current exemption policies. There are plenty of other immunization related bills – estimated to be as many as 110 – under consideration so far this year. Read more…
As various politicians have spoken out on the issue of vaccination, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, co-founder of Every Child By Two – Carter/Bumpers Champions For Immunizations responded with this article that appeared in the Huffington Post earlier today.
Don’t Politicize Vaccinations
By Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter
For more than four decades, I have joined with many others working to ensure the timely vaccination of children, and today I am saddened to see an outbreak of measles infecting more than 100 people in 14 states, many of them vulnerable infants.
Our country has achieved the highest immunization rates in history and thankfully the vast majority of parents are choosing to vaccinate their children on time. Yet, some parents today are being swayed by misinformation that has caused them to delay or decline vaccinating their children, jeopardizing the health of many others. I want all people to know that immunizations are safe, and that they work.
The current vaccine debate is being played out in the media as a partisan one, but historically, support for vaccines has been very nonpartisan. Major White House initiatives date as far back as Thomas Jefferson, who supported mass vaccination against smallpox. John F. Kennedy signed into law the first federal support program for vaccines as part of the Vaccine Assistance Act of 1962. President George H.W. Bush’s administration set a goal of 90 percent immunization rates and led efforts to create model state plans which have become an integral part of the infrastructure serving every community. The Clinton administration’s Vaccines for Children program removed cost as a barrier to eligible families.
When my husband became president in 1977, I was dismayed to learn that fewer than 20 states required vaccinations for school entry. Betty Bumpers, wife of Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers, and I had been working for many years to increase immunization rates in our home states. We renewed our efforts in Washington by working closely with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to stop the transmission of measles, and we encouraged the passage of laws mandating vaccines for school entry. We were able to accomplish this the first year we were in Washington and now laws exist in every state. We then helped develop an improved immunization program, which included large increases in research for vaccines. Dr. Bill Foege, the head of CDC remained in that position after we came home, and continued to track the outcome of our efforts. By July 1982, only one state reported cases of measles. We celebrated the news that during one week there were no new cases of measles in the United States.
Sadly, in 1989, a measles epidemic swept the country, claiming the lives of nearly 150 people, including many young children, leading us to found our organization, Every Child By Two, whose mission it is to educate the public about the dangers of preventable diseases and the need to complete the primary vaccinations by age two.
Over the first decade, we visited every state to galvanize elected officials and public health advocates and to establish immunization coalitions that today continue to work tirelessly in their communities to keep children healthy. Most importantly, we have enjoyed bi-partisan support for our efforts at both the state and federal levels, resulting in sound public health policies that have been instrumental in reaching record high immunization levels throughout the nation.
The current measles outbreak, however, is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of those who are not protected through immunization. And, as the debate turns toward the issue of personal rights versus public health, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is keeping children healthy.
When our children enter a licensed daycare site or school, do they not have the right to be protected from acquiring a deadly communicable disease? I say they do. State laws requiring vaccination for school admittance are based on sound science and are there to protect our nation’s children. As these laws come under scrutiny, I urge parents to speak up in support of mandated vaccinations in schools and daycare facilities.
Opting out of vaccinations for children should be done only after careful deliberation with a licensed medical provider, and state laws should require that any parent who wishes to do so be informed of the serious consequences to their child and other children. And above all, vaccinations should not be politicized. For hundreds of years, politicians on both sides of the aisles have supported vaccinations by making real and meaningful laws to protect the public’s health. Let’s not turn children’s health into a battle ground.
Rosalynn Carter is the co-founder of Every Child By Two – Carter/Bumpers Champions for Immunization.