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.
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.”