The year 2019 is notable for the dramatic return of measles to the United States, resulting from the decline of vaccine coverage. With more than 1,000 measles cases since January, there is a real concern of an epidemic for a vaccine-preventable disease.
Baylor College of Medicine has taken a multidimensional approach to combat this emerging public health crisis, by providing up-to-date information about the safety of vaccines and making recommendations for measles vaccinations.
The key elements of our position on vaccines and the measles outbreak include the following:
Vaccines rank among the most important life-saving technologies ever developed by humankind. Through global vaccinations, smallpox was eradicated, polio is near elimination, and measles deaths have declined more than 90 percent. In the United States, multiple diseases are being eliminated, including Hib meningitis and rotavirus diarrheal disease.
Baylor faculty are working to expand the number of diseases that might one day be eradicated through vaccination, and we are leading efforts to develop next-generation vaccines for neglected tropical diseases, norovirus infection and important non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and human addictions.
Despite these successes, we recognize that our vaccine ecosystem is fragile, so that vaccine preventable diseases could return if vaccine coverage declines. This is the case with measles, where Baylor faculty have identified at least 100 vulnerable hotspot areas nationally. These include at least four vulnerable urban areas in Texas. In 2016 and then again in 2017, we were the first to sound the alarm about the risk of measles returning to Texas and the United States.
Vaccine coverage has declined due to the spread of misinformation through websites, social media, and e-commerce sites, and efforts through local anti-vaccine political action committees. Through our Office of Government Affairs, policy research centers and advocacy outreach, Baylor strives to counter these efforts by providing timely and accurate information about vaccine safety.
A key piece of misinformation is that vaccines cause autism. There is no objective evidence to support the view that vaccines cause autism. Instead, abundant evidence supports a genetic basis for many forms of autism, and Baylor faculty are leading national efforts to find new autism genes and understand how they are regulated. Through our hospital partners, we provide state-of-the-art care for individuals affected by autism and their families.
Each new measles outbreak increases the risk to our nation’s health. We must reverse the tide of vaccine misinformation and restore public confidence in our nation’s vaccines and vaccination programs. Through this multidimensional approach, Baylor is leading national efforts to eradicate measles as one of the nation’s primary public health hazards. Please communicate with your elected representatives, as well as family members and friends in your community, about the importance of vaccinations and evidence-based vaccine policies that promote public health.
Contributors: Peter Hotez, Stephanie Morain, Christopher Scott, Clarice Jacobson and Amy McGuire on behalf of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.