The U.S. Food and Drug Administration might interfere in states that allow vaccine exemptions despite the ongoing measles outbreak.
In a statement, commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that the federal government will be forced to take action if "certain states continue down the path that they're on."
"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.
He did not specify plans and actions that the federal government might take if the exemptions continue, however.
"You could mandate certain rules about what is and isn't permissible when it comes to allowing people to have exemptions," added the commissioner.
FDA To Take Action Against Measles Outbreak
There are currently 17 states, including Washington where a measles outbreak began last month, that allow parents to opt out of having their children vaccinated for "philosophical beliefs." Majority of the states permits exemptions for religious reasons.
However, the tide is changing. In Clark County, the hardest hit in Washington, 63 confirmed cases of measles have been reported as of Wednesday, Feb. 20. Majority of the cases are among children ages 1 to 10 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from Jan. 1 to the present, a total of 127 individual cases of measles have been confirmed across 10 states. Five outbreaks (three or more confirmed cases) have been declared so far this year.
Banning Vaccine Exemptions
The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics previously called for public health authorities to remove nonmedical exemptions to address the reemergence of diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine.
The United States has eliminated measles, a highly contagious disease that spreads through coughing and sneezing, in 2000. However, in 2018, 17 outbreaks were declared across the country with 372 confirmed cases reported — the second highest number since 2000.
The Washington state Health Care and Wellness Committee passed a bill that bans personal and philosophical exemptions for vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) in children despite criticism. An additional bill seeks to remove personal and philosophical exemptions for all school-required vaccines, not just MMR.