The commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that the federal government might have to take action if states continue to allow their current rates of mandatory vaccine exemptions. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, “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.” The commissioner was vague on when the federal government should take action and what that action should be.
Forty-seven states allow parents to opt out of vaccines for religious reasons, while 17 states allow “philosophical-belief” vaccine exemptions. Most states allow children to attend school even if their parents opt out of vaccines. States with broader exemption laws tend to have higher numbers of unvaccinated residents, which predisposes them to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, like measles.
Mandatory vaccine exemptions are especially popular in the state of Washington, which just declared a public health emergency over an outbreak of measles in the state. The outbreak has hit Clark County hard, with 62 confirmed cases in the county. According to state data, roughly 7 percent of students in Clark County were exempt from compulsory vaccines upon entering kindergarten by claiming personal or religious reasons in the 2017-2018 school year.
The state of New York is also dealing with its largest measles outbreak in decades. The outbreak, which started in October, tore through the state’s Hasidic Jewish population, sickening more than 200 people. Commissioner Gottlieb said he hoped that the measles outbreaks would make state officials realize that they needed to get stricter on exemptions.
It is unclear kind of action the federal government could take against mandatory vaccine exemptions. According to Gottlieb, there are ‘certain rules’ that could be mandated. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups recommend states eliminate all exemptions except in those cases when a vaccine would cause medical harm to a child.