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Latest Measles Outbreak is a Crash Course on the Importance of Immunization

It’s hard to miss the news coming from the Pacific Northwest. Every major media outlet is covering the latest measles outbreak. Social media feeds are loaded with real-time data as the virus continues to spread. And the state of Washington has officially declared a State of Emergency.

In case the daunting weather forecast has sent you into hibernation (which is completely feasible given the historically cold temperatures impacting a large portion of America), here’s a sample of what you’ve missed:

As of Monday afternoon, there have been 36 confirmed cases and 11 potential cases of the virus. That’s a 10 person uptick since Friday. Measles is also a highly contagious disease – roughly 90 percent of susceptible individuals who are exposed to someone with the virus will be infected.

But here’s what’s most scary about the data: of the 36 confirmed cases, 31 were of individuals who did not receive a measles vaccine. This alarming public health emergency illustrates the danger posed to both individuals and society by the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines – even though common myths around vaccine safety have been debunked time and time again. Tragically, some parents think they are protecting their children by not vaccinating them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Allegations connecting vaccinations and autism were made by a dishonest physician who had a financial stake in an “alternative vaccine”. When I served in Congress, I worked with Cure Autism Now (CAN) and passed legislation creating NIH Autism Centers of Excellence.  My grandson is on the spectrum. So, I understand why parents can worry. But the best way to protect your children is to make sure they get the immunizations they need.

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The latest outbreak in Washington, however, should be a wakeup call. Specifically, state data shows that 7.9 percent of children in Clark County declared an exemption from vaccines required for kindergarten entry this past year, the Washington Post reports. To put this in perspective, the national average of children who go unvaccinated for nonmedical reasons is just 2 percent.

Choosing not to vaccine your child is not just a personal choice – individuals, families, and communities are put at risk by unvaccinated people. When a vaccinated person is exposed to an infection, their immunity can break the chain of transmission, protecting the people whom they might otherwise expose if they weren’t vaccinated. In 2013, herd immunity brought a measles outbreak in New York City with 58 identified cases to a screeching halt. Maintaining high vaccination rates is critical to protecting those who cannot be vaccinated because of immunocompromising conditions like cancer or are too young or too old to be vaccinated.

Additionally, infectious diseases cannot be contained by geographical borders. The current outbreak has already spread to health care facilities, schools, daycares, churches, stores – even the Portland Airport – and we are sure to see more cases in Washington, surrounding states, as well as outside of the Pacific Northwest.

The good news, is, to put it simply: measles outbreaks are preventable, which we can attribute to modern science and the development of innovative medicines. But don’t just take my word for it. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

Two doses of MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles and 88% effective against mumps. One dose of MMR vaccine is 93% effective against measles, 78% effective against mumps, and 97% effective against rubella.

I’m proud to represent America’s biopharmaceutical companies who have made tremendous advances in the vaccine space over the years. These medical miracles  have tremendous societal value, responsible for saving more than 730,000 children over the past 20 years in the U.S. Another study found that the vaccination of children born in the United States in 2009 is projected to generate $184 billion in lifetime social value – or about $45,000 per child.

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To learn more about the measles vaccine, click here. And for more information on CDC recommendations for childhood vaccines, please click here.

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