After measles outbreaks, Pat Roberts combats anti-vaccine movement with new bill

Sen. Pat Roberts is partnering with two Midwestern Democrats to fight the spread of misinformation about vaccines in the face of measles outbreaks throughout the country.

The Kansas Republican introduced legislation Thursday to instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award competitive grants for public information campaigns aimed at combating the anti-vaccine movement.

“There are currently hundreds of people throughout the country suffering from measles, a disease that is 100% preventable thanks to modern medicine,” Roberts said in a statement.

“However, misinformation regarding vaccines has led many to opt out of vaccinating their children, which is causing these illnesses to come back at alarming rates. This legislation will help push back at that misinformation and provide scientific evidence on why everyone should be vaccinated.”

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But as of January there were 880 cases in the country, the highest number since 1994, according to the CDC. That includes multiple cases in the Kansas City area, which faced outbreaks in 2018.

A CDC analysis of 2017 data showed that 1.3 percent of U.S. children under the age of 2 hadn’t received any recommended vaccinations. That’s more than quadruple the rate of .3 percent from when the same data was compiled in 2001.

In a video released by Roberts’ office Thursday, the Kansas senator called a lack of confidence in vaccines as one of the top public health threats.

His legislation aims to combat that by stepping up efforts to promote the evidence in support of vaccination as a medical necessity. The bill does not specify a dollar figure for the grants, but would enable the CDC to steer money toward them.

Roberts’ co-sponsors on the bill are Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois. The legislation will also be rolled into a larger Senate public health package.

“No one should have to experience the pain of seeing a loved one fall ill or even lose their life because of a vaccine-preventable disease,” Peters said in a statement.

“This bipartisan legislation would raise awareness about the importance of vaccinations to help more families protect their health and lower health care costs by preventing diseases that require expensive treatments.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC