Sen. Alexander: Parents should trust vaccines, despite online rumors

Lamar Alexander (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Vaccines are safe and save lives, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and a Memphis pediatric doctor told a Senate health committee Tuesday at a hearing on vaccine-preventable diseases.

Alexander’s remarks countered some parents who are hesitant about giving children vaccines because they believe vaccines trigger side effects or autism. Doctors warn that has led to a comeback for some old diseases.

“The science is sound,” said Alexander, who chairs the committee. “Vaccines save lives — the lives of those who receive vaccines and the lives of those who are too young or vulnerable to be immunized.”

Ohio teen Ethan Lindenberger also told Congress during the hearing why he chose to get vaccinnated, despite his mother’s disapproval.

“I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,” Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that “instill fear into the public.”

Dr. Jonathan McCullers, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Pediatrician-in-Chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, told Congress at the hearing, saying one dose provides complete protection in about 93 percent of individuals, while a second dose raises that level of protection to 97 percent with very few side effects.

“With the introduction of a safe and effective vaccine for measles in 1963 and improved public health efforts to see that nearly every child received it, new cases of measles arising in the United States were entirely eliminated by the year 2000,” McCullers said. “Unfortunately, the issues of vaccine opposition and vaccine hesitancy are now impairing our ability to effectively insure appropriate vaccine coverage, aided by State laws that make it easier to avoid vaccination.

Last month, Alexander sent a bipartisan letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health asking about efforts to promote vaccination and vaccine confidence as multiple states face outbreaks of measles in communities with low vaccination rates.

In Tennessee, the measles vaccination rate for kindergartners is 96.9 percent. In Mississippi it’s 99.4 percent, and in Arkansas it’s 91.9 percent.

A new study released Monday concluded the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine does not increase the risk of autism and does not trigger autism in children who are at risk.

“There is a lot of misleading and incorrect information about vaccines that circulates online, including through social media,” Alexander said in a statement.

“Here is what I want parents in Tennessee, in Washington, in Texas, everywhere in our country to know: Vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and meet the FDA’s gold standard of safety. … There is nothing secret about any of this science. Countless studies show that vaccines are safe. It is important for those who have questions about vaccines, especially parents, to speak with a reputable health care provider. As with many topics, just because you found it on the internet doesn’t make it true.”

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