With the rise of conspiracy theories surrounding vaccines, some lawmakers are spreading lies that could further propel disease outbreaks.
Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler (R), a major ally of Texans for Vaccine Choice, recently claimed the measles vaccine isn’t necessary because of the existence of antibiotics.
“They want to say people are dying of measles. Yeah, in Third World countries they’re dying of measles,” Zedler told the Texas Observer on Tuesday. “Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Measles, however, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that can spread through the air. It can cause fever, runny nose and small red bumps over the entire body.
There is no prescription medication that treats measles. In worst-case scenarios, the disease can weaken the immune system, potentially leading to complications like pneumonia and encephalitis and even to death.
Despite Zedler’s claims, measles can still be deadly in the U.S. The last reported death from measles in the country occurred in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before vaccination against measles became available in the U.S. in 1963, the disease killed 450 to 500 people annually nationwide.
The disease is easily preventable with the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children receive two doses of the vaccine, at 12 to 15 months and at 4 to 6 years old. Getting two doses of the vaccine is roughly 97 percent effective at preventing measles, according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the major threats to global health in 2019.
For Zedler, though, vaccine resistance is a matter of “freedom of conscience,” he said. “This is not the Soviet Union, you know.”
That line of thinking has likely helped propel several recent measles outbreaks across the U.S., including one in Washington last month that led the governor to declare a state of emergency.
Texas has also witnessed a measles outbreak, with eight confirmed cases of the disease so far this year.
Yet Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R) filed a bill this month that would make it significantly easier for parents to receive vaccine exemptions for their children. The bill, which is backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, would also prevent the Department of State Health Services from maintaining records of the number of exemptions and the individuals who request them.
Krause dismissed medical consensus surrounding vaccines, claiming that immunization proponents are merely fearmongering. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” he told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”
Three similar bills in Arizona recently advanced through the state legislature and could, like Krause’s bill, make it much easier for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. One of the Arizona bills would also require doctors to provide information to families about the supposed risks of immunization ― potentially fueling bogus theories about the dangers of vaccines.
Many people opposed to vaccines incorrectly believe that the government is covering up a connection between vaccines and autism — a theory scientists have thoroughly debunked.
Vaccination mandates for attending public schools are determined at the state level, but the Food and Drug Administration recently said it may be forced to step in if states fail to curb growing outbreaks.
“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,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNN last week. 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.”