FDA chief: Federal government might step in if states don't change lax vaccine laws

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The head of the US Food and Drug Administration says that if states don't require more schoolchildren to get vaccinated, the federal government might have to...

Posted: Feb 20, 2019 8:57 AM

The head of the US Food and Drug Administration says that if states don't require more schoolchildren to get vaccinated, the federal government might have to step in.

Nearly all states allow children to attend school even if their parents opt out of vaccines. These vaccine exemptions are especially popular in Washington state, where a measles outbreak started last month that has now sickened at least 67 people in four states. And New York has been working to contain its largest outbreak in decades, which began in October and has sickened more than 200 people.

"Some states are engaging in such wide exemptions that they're creating the opportunity for outbreaks on a scale that is going to have national implications," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday in an interview with CNN.

If "certain states continue down the path that they're on, I think they're going to force the hand of the federal health agencies," he added.

Gottlieb's suggestion about the federal government and vaccines was first reported by Axios.

The commissioner was vague on when he thought the federal government should take action and what exactly that action should be. "You could mandate certain rules about what is and isn't permissible when it comes to allowing people to have exemptions," he said.

He said he hoped that the measles outbreak would make state officials realize that they needed to get stricter on exemptions.

Forty-seven states allow parents to opt out of childhood vaccines for religious reasons. Of those, 17, including Washington, allow parents to opt out because they feel that vaccines violate their personal or philosophical beliefs.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups have long said that states should get rid of all exemptions except when a vaccine would cause medical harm to a child.

Gottlieb said he is "deeply skeptical" of all exemptions except medical ones.

Reaction to Gottlieb's statements was mixed.

"This is fantastic news," said Dr. Adam Ratner, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone. "I think some of the states may need that kind of push."

Bill Zedler, a Republican Texas state representative, disagrees.

"It's a horrible idea," said Zedler, who has fought efforts to get rid of religious and personal exemptions in his state.

"That's why we have different laws in every state: so the citizens of that state can decide how they want to run things," he added.

Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator in California, said that although he welcomed national leadership on this issue, he was concerned about the legality of the federal government moving into an area that has been controlled by state laws.

"Traditionally, school entry requirements have been the role of the states, so there might be a constitutional challenge if the federal government tried to mandate by law those school requirements," he said.

Pan, who four years ago successfully led an effort to get rid of personal and religious vaccine exemptions in his state, said he thought national leaders might take a different approach than what Gottlieb suggests to increase vaccination rates.

On Tuesday, he sent a letter to US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams to ramp up efforts to address parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children.

"As our nation's doctor, I urge you to issue a call to action on vaccine hesitancy in the United States and make this crisis a public health priority," Pan wrote.

Pan warned Adams about campaigns on social media to scare parents away from vaccinations.

"Our nation requires your leadership to stop this attack on our nation's health by addressing the spread of vaccine misinformation causing unwarranted vaccine hesitancy," he wrote.

In a statement to CNN, Adams said he has "consistently championed for the use of vaccinations."

He added that "the data tells us that that states with broader exemption laws have higher numbers of unvaccinated residents, which predisposes them to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases like measles."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 26980

Reported Deaths: 1159
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin9099657
Ramsey3351149
Stearns205614
Nobles15775
Anoka152779
Dakota144664
Washington70035
Olmsted68911
Rice5243
Kandiyohi5141
Scott4712
Clay44930
Mower4462
Wright3492
Todd3441
Sherburne2492
Carver2402
Benton1853
Steele1700
Freeborn1590
Blue Earth1490
Martin1355
St. Louis11914
Lyon1012
Unassigned9611
Pine930
Nicollet8811
Cottonwood820
Winona8115
Crow Wing815
Watonwan790
Carlton750
Goodhue736
Otter Tail731
Chisago691
Polk632
Itasca5610
Dodge540
Chippewa521
Morrison480
Le Sueur471
Douglas460
Meeker460
Becker440
Jackson420
Murray410
McLeod410
Isanti360
Pennington300
Waseca290
Mille Lacs241
Rock230
Faribault220
Wabasha200
Swift191
Beltrami180
Sibley170
Brown172
Fillmore171
Norman150
Pipestone130
Kanabec121
Aitkin120
Marshall120
Cass112
Big Stone110
Wilkin113
Wadena100
Pope100
Koochiching90
Redwood70
Yellow Medicine70
Renville70
Mahnomen61
Lincoln60
Red Lake40
Traverse40
Grant40
Clearwater30
Houston30
Hubbard30
Lac qui Parle30
Roseau30
Stevens10
Lake10
Kittson10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 21114

Reported Deaths: 593
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4614140
Woodbury286137
Black Hawk178849
Buena Vista10672
Linn97879
Dallas95226
Marshall91418
Wapello63615
Johnson6198
Muscatine56741
Crawford5512
Tama41129
Scott38510
Dubuque35921
Louisa35011
Pottawattamie31910
Sioux3060
Jasper26917
Wright2210
Washington1968
Warren1671
Plymouth1522
Story1311
Allamakee1204
Mahaska9913
Poweshiek928
Hamilton760
Webster741
Henry732
Boone720
Bremer716
Clarke690
Des Moines681
Taylor660
Clinton651
Guthrie553
Cedar501
Benton431
Cherokee410
Monroe415
Jones370
Shelby370
Osceola360
Jefferson360
Marion350
Dickinson350
Buchanan341
Iowa340
Clayton343
Cerro Gordo331
Madison292
Lee290
Sac280
Davis280
Emmet270
Fayette270
Clay270
Monona260
Harrison260
Hardin240
Lyon240
Winneshiek240
Lucas222
Mills200
Grundy200
Franklin200
Humboldt201
Pocahontas200
Delaware191
Floyd191
Hancock180
Appanoose173
Butler161
Kossuth160
Carroll151
Ida150
Greene150
Keokuk140
Jackson140
Page140
Audubon131
Cass130
Chickasaw130
Howard120
Winnebago110
Calhoun100
Union100
Van Buren90
Adair90
Montgomery92
Adams70
Palo Alto70
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Mitchell40
Worth30
Unassigned20
Wayne10
Decatur10
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