Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on a conference call on Monday that the recent measles outbreak in the United States was “completely avoidable.”
“Measles is not a harmless childhood illness but a dangerous, highly contagious disease,” Azar said.
“Most of us have never seen the deadly consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases have on a child, family, or community, and that’s the way we want to keep it,” Azar said. “Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not our emergency rooms.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases its latest data on Mondays, and this week shows that there are 704 confirmed cases of measles in 22 states.
Health officials on the call said this recent outbreak is the largest since measles was officially declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.
Health officials said that most of the cases involve children who have not received the two recommended MMR vaccine doses, which protect against measles, mumps, and rubella. They also said that 44 cases were “imported” from other countries.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the countries importing the most measles to the United States were Ukraine, Israel, and the Philippines.
Health officials also emphasized the safety of the MMR vaccine given the growing number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children because of fears the vaccine is connected to autism.
Azar said the MMR vaccine is a “simple, safe, and effective way” to prevent the disease.
“I’ll just repeat it one more time: We know vaccines are safe because they’re among some of the most studied medical problems we have,” Azar said.
Reporters from the Washington Post and Politico tried to blame President Donald Trump for the outbreak, citing a remark he made during the 2016 presidential campaign connecting vaccines with autism.
“As I mentioned earlier, as you know, the president last week was very firm that people need to get their shots — vaccinations are so important,” Azar said. “As you know, some years ago there was a debate about this issue that was partly fueled by data that has since been discredited.”
“And also since that time, the scientific community has generated new and definitive information confirming that there is no association of vaccines with autism, so we can definitively reassure every parent there is no link between autism and vaccination,” Azar said. “Credible scientific evidence shows that vaccines are very safe and do not cause autism spectrum disorders.”
“The president has been very clear,” Azar said. “People should get their shots. Talk to their healthcare providers, make sure you’re up to date.”
Azar noted on the call that this is National Infant Immunization Week.
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