The FDA's top leader says anti-vaxxers could bring about a national health crisis

  • We asked the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner,Scott Gottlieb, whether there was one thing someone could do to fix healthcare.
  • Gottlieb quickly indicated vaccines, a crucial scientific advance that protect us from dangerous diseases. They have come under attack from an anti-vaccine movement spreading false claims.
  • Trends suggest the US is approaching a tipping point on vaccines, Gottlieb told Business Insider. If attitudes toward vaccines change completely, “the implications could be quite profound,” he said.

The US health system has all kinds of problems.

But when we asked the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, whether there was one fix that could significantly improve the system, he quickly pointed to vaccines. He told Business Insider it’s important that people get their shots.

Today, “you see complacency around some of the achievements that we’ve made, and declining willingness, or even confidence in, some of the products that have vanquished a lot of human illness,” he said.

Vaccines are a powerful scientific advance that bolster the body’s natural defence systems. That can protect an individual from dangerous diseases like smallpox, polio, cholera, and measles and also can prevent those diseases from spreading in a community.

But vaccines have come under attack from a movement of “anti-vaxxers,” who use incorrect ideas about vaccines to argue against them. There have been worrisome outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles in the US, including nearly 300 cases across 15 states in 2019.

Gottlieb told Business Insider that the US was approaching a tipping point on vaccines. Once people no longer accept vaccines or are willing to be vaccinated, “the implications could be quite profound,” Gottlieb said.

If current trends continue, “it’s not going to be a gradual evolution towards the resurgence of certain diseases that were once vanquished,” he said. “It’s going to be all of a sudden, we’re going to see epidemics and maybe worse than that.”


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What we could do

Experts have become increasingly concerned about anti-vaccine sentiment.

The World Health Organisation even added peoples’ reluctance or refusal to vaccinate to its list of global public health threats this year, alongside climate change and cancer.

The US doesn’t compel everyone to get vaccinated. Instead, vaccines requirements are enforced at a state level, where they are often required for kids to go to school. But states do allow exemptions, including for medical, religious, and philosophical reasons.

One approach may be to look at those state-level exemptions, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb gave notice earlier this month that he would resign, and he has just weeks left in the job. He told Business Insider last week that he was leaving the post to spend more time with his family, including his three young children.

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