Amid measles outbreaks, Senate hearing to discuss how vaccines save lives

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Just a week after a congressional hearing on the significant rise of measles cases in the United States, lawmakers are meeting again to discuss outbreaks of preventable diseases that seem to be sweeping the nation.

The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is holding a hearing Tuesday morning called “Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?

The hearing already has drawn attention as 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberg, who defied his mother’s wishes for him to not get vaccinated, is testifying in front of the Senate committee.

“To combat preventable disease outbreaks, information is in my mind the forefront of this matter. My mother would turn to anti-vaccine groups online and on social media, looking for her evidence in defense rather than health officials and other credible sources. This may seem to be in malice because of the dangers of not vaccinating imposes, but this is not the case. My mother came in the sense of loving her children and being concerned,” Lindenberg told lawmakers Tuesday.

“For certain individuals and organizations that spread misinformation, they instill fear into the public for their own gain selfishly and do so knowing that their information is incorrect. For my mother, her love, affection and care as a parent was used to push an agenda to create a false distress, and these sources which spread misinformation should be the primary concern of the American people,” he said. “Approaching this issue with the concern of education and addressing misinformation properly can cause change, as it did for me.”

Public health experts at the hearing, including Emory University Professor Saad Omer, suggested a national campaign about the importance of vaccines and making vaccine counseling reimbursable as ways to prevent outbreaks from happening and the spread of misinformation.

“I grew up in an [anti-vaccination] household. My mom didn’t believe that vaccines were beneficial to the health and safety of society and believes that they cause autism, brain damage and other complications. This has been largely debunked by the scientific community,” Lindenberger said in a YouTube video on Saturday.

When he turned 18 a few months ago, Lindenberger began getting vaccinated, and he is finally caught up on all his shots. At the hearing, he is speaking alongside two professors of pediatrics and epidemiology, the Washington state secretary of health and the president and CEO of the Immune Deficiency Foundation.

Vaccine effectiveness is expected to be a big topic of interesting at the hearing, as well as concerns around the spread of medically inaccurate information online relating to vaccines. Also at issue, whether addressing that misinformation might be a way to stop outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases before they start.

When it comes to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long confirmed that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Additional evidence supporting the safety of the vaccine was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday.

The study provided evidence strongly supporting that the MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.

“I want to speak directly to the parents who have children with serious health issues and who have been attending our hearings in Washington state and are watching this hearing today,” said Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman during Tuesday’s hearing.

“I see your pain and your desire for answers to your children’s health issues. Your mission to protect and promote the health of your children is one we share. While the science is clear that vaccines do not cause autism, we do need to better understand its causes. We need to develop — together affected families, scientists, and public health officials — research agendas, to get the answers we need,” he said.

In January, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in the state of Washington in response to the measles outbreak.

All in all, “vaccines are safe, effective, and the best protection we have against serious preventable diseases like measles,” Wiesman said in the hearing.

In last week’s hearing, held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said, “I do believe that parents’ concerns about vaccines leads to undervaccination, and most of the cases that we’re seeing are in unvaccinated communities.”

Nationally, the United States has high measles vaccination coverage.

“However, there are pockets of people who are vaccine-hesitant. … Outbreaks of measles occur when measles gets into these communities of unvaccinated people,” she said. “The only way to protect against measles is to get vaccinated.”

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

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