Conference Coverage

Fauci, Messonnier testify on measles outbreaks



Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases stressed the safety of measles vaccines and warned that misinformation is among the factors keeping more children from being vaccinated.

Dr. Messonnier and Dr. Fauci testify before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Feb. 27. Courtesy House Energy and Commerce Committee

Dr. Messonnier and Dr. Fauci testify before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Feb. 27.

With nearly 160 cases of measles in 10 states during Jan. 1–Feb. 21, a disease once eradicated from the United States is resurfacing, with most cases affecting those who have not been vaccinated.

“Measles outbreaks have been and continue to be a constant threat to the health of the American people,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, testified at a Feb. 27 hearing of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

She noted that unvaccinated Americans traveling abroad are at risk for contracting the infection, and thus are at risk of spreading it when they return home. Foreigners coming to the country also carry the potential to spread the infection.

“Nationally, we enjoy high measles vaccination coverage,” Dr. Messonnier said.”There are pockets of people who are vaccine hesitant, who delay or even refuse to vaccinate themselves and their children. Outbreaks of measles occur when measles gets into these communities of unvaccinated people.”

She noted that those who eschew vaccination tend to live near one another and share common religious beliefs or racial or ethnic backgrounds.

She continued that vaccine hesitancy “is the result of the misunderstanding of the risk and seriousness of disease, combined with misinformation of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. However, the specific issues fueling hesitancy varies by community.”

Strategies to increase vaccination need to be localized with national support from the CDC, Dr. Messonnier said, adding that rapid response is critical to control outbreaks.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, agreed.

“I consider it really an irony that you have one of the most contagious viruses known to man juxtaposed against one of the most effective vaccines that we have and yet we don’t do and have not done what could be done, namely completely eliminate and eradicate this virus,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Messonnier stressed that the only way to protect against measles is to get vaccinated.

“If they have questions, they should talk to their doctor,” she added. “Their doctor can provide them with more information about measles, answer their questions and reassure them so they go ahead and get vaccinated.”

Dr. Fauci concurred and added that “we should look upon it in two approaches. One, it’s for the safety of your own child. The other is a responsibility to the community. ... We all have a responsibility to be part of that umbrella of herd immunity and once it goes down below a certain percentage, then you have danger to the entire society.”

He stressed that the CDC is a good website to combat much of the misinformation that is floating around on the Internet.

The committee panel, while taking an interest in the recent outbreaks, did not hint at any specific legislative actions were being considered.

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