President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE, who has in the past expressed concerns about the possible negative effects of too many childhood vaccines being given over a short period of time, has now reversed course and praised vaccines as important. "They have to get the shots," Trump said Friday as he was departing the White House for a trip to Indiana. "The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots."
The president was referring to the measles mumps rubella, or MMR, vaccine and the ongoing measles outbreak, with close to 700 cases reported nationally — already the most here in 19 years, since native measles was eliminated in the U.S.
By contrast, the MMR vaccine is safe, has been studied many times, and has never been found to be associated with either autism or any other disease. The latest study followed more than 600,000 Danish children for several years and again showed no increased risk of autism whatsoever. Side effects of any kind are rare, and are much fewer than the side effects of measles itself.
Trump’s well timed comments come as the war against measles is heating up, with “anti-vaxxers” in New York, California, Washington and other states continuing to protest new state laws which would limit the use of exemptions, as personal pulpits.
This irrational resistance to the vaccine is dangerous because measles is incredibly contagious, and a victim can spread it unknowingly for days before the characteristic bright red rash appears.
Of course, since it is a live-virus vaccine, it cannot be given to young infants, immune-compromised patients (including cancer patients receiving chemotherapy) or women while they are pregnant. This is why we need to build community immunity around these vulnerable groups with a vaccine compliance rate of at least 95 percent. In communities clogged with anti-vaxxers, we are nowhere near that number — a major reason why we are seeing the current outbreaks.
Tracking and isolating those with measles is our best public health defense along with vaccination, but in resistant communities like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., where most of the cases have occurred, vaccine non-compliance is over 20 percent and compliance with health authorities is less than ideal. Vaccine-refusers may claim the right to personal exemptions, but what about the right of others in the community not to be exposed to a serious virus that can commonly cause pneumonia or hearing loss and occasionally cause brain swelling and even death?
In fact, worldwide, more than 100,000 people — most of them children — still die from measles every year, and this year there are already three times the number of measles cases in the world than at this time last year. This means that travelers to these areas, especially Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East, may encounter measles and, if they are not fully immunized, they are likely to contract it and bring it back here.
This is why it’s so important that we battle vaccine myths with facts and improve compliance with the lifesaving MMR vaccine, which the World Health Organization estimates has saved the lives of more than 21 million between 2000 and 2017 alone.
All children should be fully vaccinated (two shots) before attending kindergarten. The MMR vaccines’ effectiveness against measles, when two shots are given, is 97 percent. Those born before 1957 are likely to be fully immune from having contracted measles, but still should be checked just to make sure. I routinely check immunity on those born between 1963 and 1989, when a measles vaccine was available but not the ideal combination-shot we have now. (Between 1963 and 1967, one of the main measles shots was found to be ineffective.)
The president has taken a big step in the right direction on public health leadership. I believe his statement, showing strong support of vaccine compliance, will have an impact. He should be lauded for it — and, of course, a more balanced news media would be sure to acknowledge it.
Marc Siegel, M.D., is a professor of medicine and medical director at Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @drmarcsiegel.