For Immediate Release: February 26, 2019
Vermont Department of Health
802-951-5153 / 802-863-7281
Health Commissioner Levine Urges Congressional Efforts to Eliminate Measles
Congress is examining the public health response to current measles outbreaks in the U.S.
BURLINGTON – On the eve of a congressional hearing about the growing public health threat of measles outbreaks, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD called for “a concerted effort to return measles to the ranks of obscure diseases.”
In a letter to the members of Congress convening the hearing, Dr. Levine said that recent outbreaks show that measles, a vaccine-preventable disease that just 20 years ago was declared eliminated from the U.S., is again becoming a grave concern. Dr. Levine attributes this, in part, to the spread of misinformation that has resulted in not enough people getting vaccinated to prevent its spread.
“Several of the outbreaks around the country started among communities with low rates of vaccinations,” said Dr. Levine. “The growing incidence we are seeing is often the result of the spread of inaccurate or misleading information about these safe and effective vaccines.”
Measles is a serious and highly contagious respiratory disease. Measles causes a rash and fever, and can lead to pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there have been multiple measles outbreaks in the U.S. Since the start of 2019, measles has been reported in 10 states.
Dr. Levine specifically cited the ease with which misinformation is made available on social media, and its outsized impact on people seeking facts about immunizations. “It is unconscionable to me that information and opinion influencers, such as social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram, are not leaders in ensuring that credible, scientifically-based information and resources are prioritized as part of their user experience algorithms,” wrote Dr. Levine. “Misinformation and misleading information contribute to the modern-day assault on science and evidence. It is a social responsibility of social media to prevent the spread of health-related misinformation and content.”
Dr. Levine said that as a physician, he encourages parents and care givers to ask questions and get the information they need to make informed choices for their children. He wrote to the committee that he is speaking out on behalf of those who will experience the benefits – or consequences – of the quality of that information.
The CDC recommends that all children get the measles-mumps-rubella shot (MMR). Dr. Levine said that vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, but that the MMR shot is very safe and most children who get the MMR shot have no side effects. Vermont data for 2018 shows 97.2 percent of students (K-12) met the MMR school vaccination requirement.
Of children who are not vaccinated and later contract measles, 30 percent are hospitalized, and many suffer adverse effects. High immunization rates are also critical to those who can’t be vaccinated – such as infants, pregnant women without evidence of measles immunity, and those with severely compromised immune systems.
“This is a winnable battle.” said Dr. Levine. “We should be looking forward to the final stretch of eliminating measles as a threat here at home and across the globe.”
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