Fears of vaccinations raise measles threat

Posted: September 15, 2013

Most health-care professionals regret that some parents don't vaccinate children because of now-debunked reports of vaccines causing autism.

The situation also drives Emilio Emini nuts. One of Pfizer Inc.'s top vaccine researchers, Emini often works from Pfizer's facility in Collegeville.

"When someone says without a lot of evidence or any evidence that vaccines are associated with this, that, and the other thing and that leads parents to worry and not vaccinate their children, they leave their children at extraordinary risk," Emini said. "They leave the children of others at extraordinary risk as well because vaccines often work by population-based immunity."

Measles should have been wiped out in the United States by now, but unfounded fears of vaccinations and increasing world travel have translated into a resurgence, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Drug companies supply vaccines, but their for-profit status makes part of the public suspicious and hampers the companies' role in promoting vaccinations.

The CDC said 2013 is one of the worst years in the last two decades, with 159 measles cases identified through Aug. 21. New York, North Carolina, and Texas have had the largest outbreaks. Most cases involved unvaccinated people, those exposed to foreign travelers, or both.

Measles kills 160,000 people each year worldwide, but U.S. vaccine programs - including a 1993 federal law establishing a public-private partnership with drug companies - have reduced the yearly national average to 60 cases. But there were 222 cases in 2011, and the CDC frets about a nascent trend.

Pfizer chief executive officer Ian Read said this week that he was concerned about a low level of public trust in drug companies. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, confirmed that Thursday when asked if she wanted drugmakers to speak differently to encourage vaccinations.

"There may be questions that the public has about their independence and why they are speaking," Schuchat said. "We know that we wouldn't have these vaccines if the manufacturers didn't produce them. ... But we also know that the public and parents in general want independent messaging about vaccinations."

Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506, dsell@phillynews.com, or @phillypharma. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/phillypharma.

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