Measles Outbreak Tests Vaccination Requirement

FEBRUARY 05, 2015
Eileen Oldfield, Associate Editor
The 102 measles infections reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since December indicate the consequences of low vaccination rates in certain communities, as well as the public health crisis that could occur if patients continue to decline immunizations.
“It’s a red flag that we don’t have a high enough percentage of our population immunized to prevent this from happening,” said infectious disease specialist John Swartzberg, MD, FAACP, Clinical Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, in an exclusive interview with “It’s sort of the canary in the coal mine.”
A poll conducted by indicates that patients are already approaching their most accessible health care provider for information about measles, as 54% of pharmacists said they have heard concerns about the outbreak.
In a statement released on February 5, 2015, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) supported vaccination as a public health measure, as well as the pharmacists’ accessibility.
“Pharmacists are an important community source of information on vaccinations, and, where authorized, vaccine administrators,” APhA Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan said in the press release. “…If someone has any questions about the efficacy and importance of immunizations, they can talk with their local pharmacist.”
The outbreak attitudes took a decidedly political turn as both sides weighed in on the vaccination choice debate. At least 3 prominent 2016 presidential contenders have expressed their attitudes, with 2 of them changing their views in subsequent statements.
Although Dr. Swartzberg said the political debate might alter the vaccination issue initially, he does not anticipate a long-term negative effect.
“I think we’ve already seen politicians make unwise or uneducated statements to the public because they somehow think it’s okay to put the public health as a lesser priority than pandering to their party’s base,” Dr. Swartzberg told “…I don’t think over the long term that it’s going to have a large influence, primarily because I see them backing away from it already.”
Meanwhile, a study from Ohio State University (OSU) has tied government confidence to patients’ willingness to get vaccinated. Researchers found that individuals were 3 times more likely to get vaccinated if they trusted the government’s ability to handle an epidemic.
Although some research has attributed the current measles outbreak to clusters of parents in politically liberal areas who did not vaccinate their children, the OSU study, which analyzed national survey data on the H1N1 influenza virus, determined that Republicans and independents are significantly less likely than Democrats to express intentions to get vaccinated.
“I believe it is lack of confidence in the government—not political affiliation—that may unite the anti-vaccination people in our study with those from today,” said OSU sociology professor Kent Schwirian in a press release. “Even in our study, about a third of Democrats said they were not likely to get swine flu vaccine, and many of those had low confidence in government.”
Putting aside the political contention, the measles outbreak has put a spotlight on vaccination requirements. At present, only Mississippi and West Virginia have very strict vaccination requirements, though news reports suggest that California will soon reevaluate its vaccination laws.
“I think, if anything, another silver lining to this measles outbreak is going to be many states tightening their requirements on who can opt out,” Dr. Swartzberg told “I just hope the momentum continues.”

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