FDA Chief Warns States to Reduce Vaccine Exemptions—or the Feds May Step In

February 23, 2019, 12:03 AM UTC

As measles outbreaks continue to impact communities across the United States, the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, told Axios that states must act to reduce vaccine exemptions, or the federal government will be forced to do so. Gottlieb was not specific about what actions federal regulators could or would take if states do not tighten or change vaccine exemption laws. But he did note, “This is an avoidable tragedy.”

Currently, 47 states allow vaccine exemptions for religious reasons, and 17 of those allow parents to skip their kids’ immunizations for philosophical reasons, including states where the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is monitoring measles outbreaks. That includes Washington State, which is in the midst of a measles outbreak that, as of January, had infected at least 22 people, most of them children under the age of 10.

The World Health Organization called “vaccine hesitancy” one of the top 10 global health threats for 2019, noting that there are logistical reasons some people miss or skip vaccinations. But anti-vaccine (also called anti-vax) propaganda has not helped with herd immunity, which is the effect when enough individuals in a larger population are vaccinated against a contagion, and subsequently, the populace at large is protected against a major outbreak.

Unfortunately, outbreaks of preventable diseases are not just a domestic concern. Europe is seeing a record-high number of measles cases as well.