As measles cases grow nationwide and state health leaders monitor mainland outbreaks, one Big Island state senator has expressed more concern about the vaccine than the disease itself.
In a recent Facebook post, Puna Sen. Russell Ruderman shared a link from Collective Evolution titled “Japan Leads the Way: No Vaccine Mandates and No MMR Vaccine = Healthier Children.”
Media Bias/Fact Check, an independent online media outlet that determines biases of news sources, rates Collective Evolution as a “quackery level pseudoscience website based on promoting miracle cures, anti-vaxx propaganda and 9/11 conspiracies.”
In the post, which has since been deleted, Ruderman, who is a member of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health Committee, said he is not “anti-vax,” but is “pro-science. So I don’t reject inconvenient data. Pharma slogans and fear-mongering not welcome here. The multi-billion dollar PR campaigns already cover that stuff well,” according to screen shots of the post taken by a Tribune-Herald reporter.
In a response to a comment on the post about a measles outbreak in Japan, Ruderman wrote that measles “scares me less than complications from injections,” and that the disease is the “poster child for the current fear campaign.”
Ruderman, in an email, declined to comment when asked by the Tribune-Herald to elaborate on his views and concerns regarding vaccinations, whether he considered it responsible for an elected official to publicly comment or cast doubt about vaccinations, whether he was concerned about a measles outbreak in Hawaii, and whether outbreaks across the country have changed his position at all.
“The tone of the questions makes me fear the way my answer will be described,” he wrote.
Hawaii health officials did not comment about Ruderman or his post specifically, but said the state Department of Health “supports discussion and education regarding vaccines and encourages the public to seek science-based, accurate and balanced information about the benefits and risks of vaccination from credible sources.”
The World Health Organization, the United Nations’ health agency, has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the 10 threats to global health in 2019.
“Vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” the WHO said. “Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease — it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 764 individual cases of the measles confirmed in 23 states between Jan. 1 and May 3 — the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
In a given year, more measles cases can occur because of an increase in the number of travelers who get measles abroad and bring it into the United States and the further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people, the CDC says.
In January, the DOH confirmed two cases of measles in unvaccinated children visiting the Big Island from Washington state, where an outbreak had been declared. At that time, the DOH was notified by Washington health officials who were aware of and monitoring a case that exposed a traveling family. Because they were identified and maintained isolation during the illness, the state didn’t have any other cases related to those two.
While the CDC states that any vaccine can cause side effects, those side effects are, for the most part, minor and go away within a few days.
According to the DOH:
• Immunization through vaccination is the safest way to protect against disease.
Vaccines produce an immune response similar to that produced by the natural infection, but without the serious risks of death or disability connected with natural infection. Three million deaths are prevented every year thanks to vaccines.
• It is always best to get vaccinated, even when you think the risk of infection is low.
Deadly diseases that seem gone have a habit of making a come-back when immunization rates drop. Vaccination prevents 10.5 million cases of infectious disease each year.
• Combined vaccines are safe and beneficial.
Giving several vaccines at the same time has no negative effect on a child’s immune system. It reduces discomfort for the child, and saves time and money. Children are exposed to more antigens from a common cold than they are from vaccines.
• There is no link between vaccines and autism.
There is no scientific evidence to link the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine with autism or autistic disorders. This unfortunate rumor started with a single 1998 study which was quickly found to be seriously flawed, and was retracted by the journal that published it.
• If vaccinations stop, deadly diseases will return.
Even with better hygiene, sanitation and access to safe water, infections still spread. When people are not vaccinated, infectious diseases that have become uncommon can quickly come back.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.