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As Disease Outbreaks Tied to 'Anti-Vaxxers' Rise, States Take Action

TUESDAY, Nov. 19, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are on the across rise in the United States, often fueled by "anti-vaxxer" parents reluctant to immunize their kids.

However, states are countering these trends with laws to boost childhood vaccination rates and safeguard children, a new study finds.

"Vaccines are our best public health tool for controlling many childhood diseases," said lead author Neal Goldstein of Drexel University, in Philadelphia.

"Seeing an uptick in legislation aimed at cutting vaccine exemptions following disease outbreaks suggests that media coverage may raise public awareness and advocacy and response from legislators," Goldstein said in a university news release.

"While it is unfortunate it took outbreaks of preventable disease to spawn legislative action, it further affirms the widespread support of this life-saving intervention," he added. Goldstein is an assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in Drexel's School of Public Health.

Recent outbreaks of illnesses such as measles or whooping cough in California (2015) and New York (2019) led lawmakers in those states to ban all non-medical vaccine exemptions.

To see if that trend was widespread, Goldstein's team analyzed 2010 to 2016 state data on outbreaks of 12 childhood vaccine-preventable diseases, including hepatitis A and B, flu, measles and whooping cough.

The investigators also examined 2011 to 2017 data on state bills introduced the year after the start of an outbreak that would tighten or ease vaccination requirements for these diseases.

Each state reported an average of 25 vaccine-preventable diseases per 100,000 people per year, but there was significant year-to-year variation.

Of the 175 state vaccination-related bills proposed during 2011 to 2017, about 53% made it easier to get an exemption from vaccine requirements, while 47% made exemption more difficult.

While there were more anti-vaccine bills than pro-vaccine bills introduced overall, further analysis showed that increases in vaccine-preventable diseases were followed by increases in the number of proposed bills that restricted vaccine exemptions.

There was no association between decreases in vaccine-preventable diseases and proposed bills that made it easier to get vaccine exemptions, according to the study. The results were published Nov. 18 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Legislation to reduce vaccine exemptions is needed in the United States, the study authors said. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but there were 695 cases in 22 states in April 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on vaccines.

SOURCE: Drexel University, news release, Nov. 18, 2019

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