ASM Applauds Subcommittee Hearing on Measles Outbreaks in the U.S.

Feb. 27, 2019

Statement from the American Society for Microbiology
in response to the
Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Hearing:
“Confronting a Growing Public Health Threat: Measles Outbreaks in the U.S.”

On behalf of its 32,000 members, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) commends Chairwoman DeGette, Ranking Member Guthrie, and members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for holding a hearing on the current measles outbreak and response efforts.

ASM strongly supports the universal use of approved vaccines to prevent illness and death caused by infectious diseases such as the measles. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that these vaccines are both safe and effective. Thanks in large part to federal investments in basic and clinical research, we have a sound evidence-based foundation for U.S. immunization strategies. There is no doubt that the development and effective use of vaccines for a broad range of life-threatening illnesses has saved countless lives in our nation and around the world.

ASM also applauds the Committee for its steadfast work over the past year to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The measles outbreak under consideration today demonstrates why this legislation is so critical. Our nation’s security calls for the need to prevent and mitigate a major disease outbreak, and the resources to build and sustain the infrastructure necessary for federal and state governments to respond to potential and declared public health emergencies in a timely and coordinated manner.

The recent reemergence of vaccine preventable diseases is alarming since outbreaks of once nearly eradicated diseases not only harm the patient, but put the local populations at risk, especially the most vulnerable members of these communities. Furthermore, infectious disease outbreaks exact significant economic and financial tolls on the country.

Our concerns extend beyond the recent measles outbreaks to emerging, troubling trends over the past decade in which some communities forgo vaccination due to myths and misconceptions about their safety. These myths persist despite having been categorically disproven by a robust body of scientific literature and a thorough review by the National Academies of Medicine. For example, in 2012, 48,277 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including 20 pertussis-related deaths. These were the highest reported cases of pertussis since 1955, demonstrating that when vaccination rates go down, the rates of preventable diseases like pertussis, mumps and measles, go up.

While recent studies have shown that the public perception of vaccines and their importance is improving, the data also suggests that greater investments are needed in patient and family education regarding the importance of vaccines and to increase the rate of vaccination among all populations.

In May 2018, ASM partnered with Research!America to commission a nationwide online survey of 1,004 adults in the United States. The survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics, found that a majority of Americans agree that federal support to address infectious disease outbreaks is essential and vaccines are important to the health of society. Nearly 90 percent of Americans say it is important for parents to have their children vaccinated and when parents decide not to vaccinate, 61 percent say it puts their children and their communities at risk, a 10-percentage point increase from 2008.

However, 28 percent of those polled said that parents should have the right to decide whether their children should get vaccinated. This statistic tells us that we must increase our education and outreach efforts, and begin to explore the policy levers for protecting those who cannot get vaccinated, such as infant children who fall below the age-recommend screening guidelines and those with compromised immune systems, from those who choose not to get vaccinated.

Also worth noting is that the ASM survey found an overwhelming majority (95 percent) of respondents thought infectious and emerging diseases facing other countries will pose a major or minor threat to the United States in the next few years whereas 61percent indicated their confidence that the federal government can prevent a major infectious disease outbreak in the United States.

There is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that demonstrate vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent illness and protect the health of the public. We must continue to build on the science to ensure that we can address new and emerging infectious diseases, in addition to deploying evidence-based, preventive measures like vaccines to protect against existing and re-emerging diseases.

ASM stands ready to assist Members of the Committee and the Congress in supporting basic and clinical research and promoting evidence-based policies that support immunization regimens recommended by the nation’s public health agencies.

ASM is one of the largest single life science societies, composed of more than 32,000 scientists and health professionals. Our mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences, including programs and initiatives funded by the federal government departments and agencies, by virtue of the pervasive role of microorganisms in health and society.

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
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