The Hill

FDA Head Scott Gottlieb Calls On States To Remove Vaccine Exemptions

Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has warned that the agency might step in if state governments continue to allow more children to attend school despite not being vaccinated amid the measles outbreak in the country.

“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,” he told CNN in a report on Wednesday.

Gottlieb questioned the state governments’ current vaccine exemptions, particularly in Washington, which announced a measles outbreak in January. New York is also currently working to contain its largest outbreak in decades, which started in October 2018 and already affected over 200 people.

Gottlieb said the current outbreak should make state officials realize the need to implement stricter policies on vaccine exemptions. However, he warned that if “certain states continue down the path that they're on, I think they're going to force the hand of the federal health agencies.”

To date, 47 states allow parents to avoid vaccines for their children due to religious reasons. This led the FDA, along with other medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to call on the government to remove such exemption. 

“This is fantastic news,” Adam Ratner, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone, said of the FDA head's move. “I think some of the states may need that kind of push,” he continued.

However, Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator in California, noted that the federal government might face challenges in moving into an area controlled by state laws. “Traditionally, school entry requirements have been the role of the states, so there might be a constitutional challenge if the federal government tried to mandate by law those school requirements,” he said.

Pan recently called on U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to help the government encourage parents who are hesitant to have their children vaccinated. “Our nation requires your leadership to stop this attack on our nation's health by addressing the spread of vaccine misinformation causing unwarranted vaccine hesitancy,” Pan wrote. 

Adams said he supports the idea to boost childhood vaccination across the states.