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At Senate health hearing, Senator Murray speaks about importance of addressing vaccine hesitancy and getting people the facts they need to keep their families and communities safe & healthy 

Led by Senator Murray, hearing on vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks comes as WA and several other states work to address measles outbreaks 

Senator Murray: “These outbreaks are a clear sign we have to do more to address vaccine hesitancy and make sure parents have the facts they need to understand the science: vaccines are safe, effective, and life-saving” 

WA State Secretary of Health spoke about the ongoing response to the state’s current measles outbreak which has infected over 70 people in WA’s Clark & King Counties

Senator Murray recently sent a bipartisan letter to the Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking about efforts to promote vaccine confidence

***WATCH VIDEO OF SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE*** 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate health committee, sounded the alarm on the importance of vaccines to averting preventable disease outbreaks. During a recent committee hearing, Senator Murray focused on the importance of addressing vaccine hesitancy, building vaccine confidence, and making sure people across the country trying to keep their families and communities safe have the facts about how vaccines are safe, effective, and life-saving. Senator Murray pointed to the current measles outbreak in Washington state, which has infected over 70 people so far in Clark and King counties, as an example of the urgency of this issue, and also called for strong investments in public health efforts to not only address but prevent public health crises.

Among the witnesses was Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman, who spoke about his experience working to address the ongoing measles outbreak in Washington state—one of several across the country—and the importance of supporting strong public health systems at home and abroad.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s opening remarks:

As Washington state, and several others, grapple with measles outbreaks, this issue couldn’t be more timely. I remember in 2000 when measles was officially eliminated from the United States—and what welcome news that was for families across the country. And I remember the years of effort that led to that victory. Before the vaccine was available, measles outbreaks used to spread through communities like wildfire. If you were old enough to drive, odds were you’d already had measles. But today, vaccines that protect against measles have been in use for over 50 years. Like other vaccines, we know the vaccine is safe. We know it is effective. We know it saves lives.”

“Parents across the country want to do what is best for their families to keep them safe—which is why they need to be armed with knowledge about the importance of vaccination. And why we need research into vaccine communication tools and strategies to help us better educate people to address vaccine hesitancy, and build vaccine confidence. We also need to understand the roles social media and online misinformation play in spreading dangerous rumors and falsehoods. And we need to better prepare the full spectrum of health care providers—who are often the professionals people trust most—to counter vaccine hesitancy and promote vaccination.”

“They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—that’s certainly the case here. A dose of MMR vaccine, covering measles, mumps, and rubella, is about twenty dollars—meanwhile Washington state has spent over a million dollars addressing the current measles outbreak. Investing in prevention isn’t just more effective at keeping our families and communities healthy—it’s more affordable too.”

Watch video of Senator Murray’s full opening remarks HERE.

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening remarks below:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.

“As Washington state, and several others, grapple with measles outbreaks, this issue couldn’t be more timely.

“I remember in 2000 when measles was officially eliminated from the United States—and what welcome news that was for families across the country.

“And I remember the years of effort that led to that victory.

“Before the vaccine was available, measles outbreaks used to spread through communities like wildfire. If you were old enough to drive, odds were you’d already had measles.

“But today, vaccines that protect against measles have been in use for over 50 years.

“Like other vaccines, we know the vaccine is safe. We know it is effective. We know it saves lives.

“Which is why today, a generation of students are starting college, almost none of whom had to worry about a measles outbreak at school.

“It also means a generation of new parents may not appreciate just how dangerous measles is.

“Before introduction of the measles vaccine and widespread vaccination, millions of people caught measles annually, meaning thousands were hospitalized, and hundreds of people died—mostly children under five years old.

“But measles isn’t just deadly, it’s also one of the world’s most contagious diseases.

“It’s easily transmitted through coughing and sneezing.

“It can linger in the air and on infected surfaces for two hours.

“It’s already contagious four days before an infected person develops a rash—and then another four days after.

“Nine out of ten unvaccinated people exposed to measles catch it.

“That is why the measles vaccine is so important in providing protection.

“Experts say in order to establish herd immunity against measles—in order to prevent an outbreak from occurring within a community—at least 95% of people should be vaccinated.

“Meeting that threshold is crucial to protect people unable to get vaccinated, like infants, and those with certain medical conditions.

“Unfortunately, while the national vaccination rate remains high, in communities across the country we are falling behind.

“Vaccine coverage rates are declining in certain areas, contributing to the rise in preventable outbreaks.

“Like in Clark County, Washington, where public health officials continue to respond to a measles outbreak. The immunization rate among children in that community is less than 70 percent—far below what is needed to keep families safe.

“The result is a true public health emergency—over 70 confirmed cases and counting. And the majority of cases have affected children under ten years old who are unvaccinated.

“Each case isn’t just a concern for family members worried about their loved ones who are sick…

“It’s a threat to neighbors and communities left struggling to get an incredibly contagious disease under control…

“A terror for parents with newborns who can’t get vaccinated…

“And a strain on our public health system as hundreds of staff in Washington state are pulled from critical public health roles to respond to the crisis, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stretches to support the response to outbreaks in Washington and several other states.

“And measles isn’t the only disease that deserves our attention amid slipping vaccination rates. Diseases like mumps and pertussis—or whooping cough—are also cause for concern. 

“These outbreaks are a clear sign we have to do more to address vaccine hesitancy and make sure parents have the facts they need to understand the science: vaccines are safe, effective, and life-saving.

“Parents across the country want to do what is best for their families to keep them safe—which is why they need to be armed with knowledge about the importance of vaccination.

“And why we need research into vaccine communication tools and strategies to help us better educate people to address vaccine hesitancy, and build vaccine confidence.

“We also need to understand the roles social media and online misinformation play in spreading dangerous rumors and falsehoods.

“And we need to better prepare the full spectrum of health care providers—who are often the professionals people trust most—to counter vaccine hesitancy and promote vaccination.

“That’s important not only for parents, but also for expectant parents who may already be deciding whether or not they plan to vaccinate, and for promoting adult vaccines and encouraging people to protect themselves and others throughout their lives.

“I look forward to hearing from Dr. Wiesman about how Washington state is working to get parents reliable info about the importance of vaccination and from all of our witnesses about how the federal government and other partners can promote vaccines and prevent the spread of misinformation.

“And while we’re fighting multiple measles outbreaks right now.

“It’s important we also educate people on the HPV vaccine’s role in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and lowering cancer risks…

“The flu vaccine—particularly on the heels of one of the most deadly flu seasons in years…

“The whooping cough vaccine—especially for those around infants who are particularly susceptible to the disease…

“And the value of every other recommended vaccine.

“We also need to make sure we are approaching public health challenges like this from a global perspective—because we know diseases aren’t stopped by borders, or walls, or bans.

“They are stopped by doctors and nurses—by vaccines and public health awareness.

“And they are stopped by strong investments in public health systems here at home and abroad.

“They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—that’s certainly the case here.

“A dose of MMR vaccine, covering measles, mumps, and rubella, is about twenty dollars—meanwhile Washington state has spent over a million dollars addressing the current measles outbreak.

“Investing in prevention isn’t just more effective at keeping our families and communities healthy—it’s more affordable too.

“The Vaccines for Children Program is another great example of this. Over 25 years now it has helped kids in low income families get shots at no cost. It has saved 1.6 trillion dollars, prevented 380 million illnesses, and saved 860 thousand lives—that’s more people than live in Seattle.

“So I hope we can work together in a bipartisan way to build on programs like this with strong steps to help address public health crises, and better yet, to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“And I’m glad to have this opportunity to learn more about how we can do that and to consider how to make sure people across the country understand that vaccines are a safe and effective way to keep their families and communities healthy.”