Category Archives: World Health Organization

Coronavirus: why the US is in a mess, and How to Fix It and How Does the Virus Affect the Body? The Economy and Do We Have Enough Ventilators?

As this Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, infect and kill more people we need to look the effects of this crisis. Peter Drobac reported that flattening the curve is the next goal to this new viral pandemic.

It’s always been a question of when, and not whether, humanity would face another challenge on the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic. 

The novel coronavirus is shaping up to be that challenge, with events moving at an unnerving pace. Since emerging in Wuhan, China in late 2019, more than 125,000 cases and 4,600 deaths have been reported worldwide. Officially a pandemic, the virus is shining a harsh spotlight on the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s health systems.

At first glance, the US should be well positioned to respond to a disease outbreak. It spends more than any other country on its health system, boasts a high concentration of specialists and laboratories, and has some of the world’s most respected public health experts. Yet with coronavirus, the US is courting catastrophe.

Because of serious problems with testing, coronavirus has been silently spreading in the US for nearly two months. A Harvard epidemiologist has cautioned that up to 60% of the adult population could become infected. With a health system already operating near its capacity in the height of flu season, this would spell disaster.

Hospitals would be overwhelmed. Shortages of intensive care beds and ventilators would cause death rates to rise. And people with other medical conditions, from complicated pregnancies to heart attacks, would find it more difficult to access the care they need. During the West African Ebola outbreak, health system collapse meant there were nearly as many deaths due to other diseases as from Ebola itself.

Before we all panic, there are some bright spots. Countries in Asia have shown that it is possible to bring the coronavirus epidemic under control, and they’ve had success in different ways.

But first, it’s important to understand what has gone wrong in the US.

Caught flat-footed

When the first coronavirus case was reported in the US on January 20, 2020, alarm bells were already sounding around the world. Unprecedented control measures in China, including the effective quarantine of nearly 100 million people, slowed the spread of the virus and bought the rest of the world time. But while other countries began preparing for the epidemic, the US was caught flat-footed.

Rather than use WHO-approved test kits, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed its own coronavirus test. Regulations prohibited private and university labs from developing tests themselves. Problems with the CDC’s test, along with overly narrow testing criteria, created a massive testing bottleneck.

Fewer than 10,000 tests have been conducted in the US. Compare that with over 200,000 in South Korea. Case detection is the most fundamental part of a public health response to an outbreak. When we can’t do that, we’re operating in the dark.

Meanwhile, years of attempted budget cuts and the elimination of the federal Global Health Security office left America’s vaunted public health agencies less prepared to coordinate a response across the country’s fragmented and unequal health system. Unsteady presidential leadership has sowed confusion and misinformation.

So while 1,215 cases have been reported in 42 states, actually as of Sunday there was only the state of West Virginia that didn’t have a case of the virus, the real number is probably much higher. And with an epidemic that doubles every five days when unchecked, the US may not be far behind Italy.

Flattening the curve

So, what can the US learn from the Asian countries that have managed to blunt the spread of novel coronavirus? While no country has been able to stop the spread of the virus completely, several have managed to “flatten the curve.” What does this mean?

Flattening the epidemic curve means slowing the spread of new infections. This can ensure that not too many people are infected at the same time, giving health systems a better chance to cope. It also buys time, as researchers race to develop and test treatments and vaccines.

New cases in China have gone dropped from a flood to a trickle, at least for now, where they are only reporting 8-10 cases per day since Friday. But it required putting vast swaths of the country on total lockdown, exacting enormous economic and social pain. Italy is now following suit.

Singapore responded early, employing tried-and-tested public health measures: testing, enforced quarantine, and tracing contacts with surgical precision. The US is probably too late for this approach.

Taiwan also responded briskly, establishing a central command center, implementing targeted travel bans and proactive testing, and social distancing measures such as school closures.

South Korea may offer the best example of what could be possible in the US. Like the US, they had to play catch-up, facing a surge of infections tied to a secretive church in Daegu. The pillar of their response has been widespread, free testing, including drive-through test sites. Technology has aided the tracing of contacts, using GPS tracking. Rather than creating a total lockdown, they opted for social distancing measures targeting transmission hot spots. The number of daily new cases has dropped from a peak of 851 to fewer than 250.

Such measures would be workable in the US, but there is no time to waste. The testing bottleneck appears to be loosening, but it may be weeks before testing capacity can catch up to demand. Where possible, localities are taking matters into their own hands. 

In Seattle, one of the country’s transmission hot spots, the University of Washington launched a Korea-style drive-through test centre for its employees and students. In New Rochelle, New York, schools, churches and other gathering places in a “containment area” have been closed down. And mass gatherings are beginning to be cancelled across the country.

Efforts like this need to be scaled and spread dramatically—and quickly. Financial barriers to testing and medical care need to be eliminated, particularly for America’s large uninsured population. Hospitals and healthcare workers will need support to develop parallel care systems for coronavirus patients.

And as school closures, working from home, and transport restrictions are implemented more widely, efforts are needed to protect the most vulnerable.

The Trump administration needs to put the experts in charge and ask Congress for a blank cheque to give them the resources they need. It’s time for a war footing. 

Most importantly, everyone needs to understand that life in the time of coronavirus is different. 

A recession is unlikely but not impossible

Covid-19 infects the world economy?

As reported in Finance and Economics, if the final week of February saw financial markets jolted awake to the dangers of a COVID-19 pandemic, the first week of March has seen policymakers leaping into action. The realization that global GDP will probably shrink for part of this year, and the looming risk of a financial panic and credit-crunch, has led central banks to slash interest rates at a pace last seen in the financial crisis of 2007-09.

On March 3rd the Federal Reserve lowered its policy rate by 0.5 percentage points, two weeks before its scheduled monetary-policy meeting. Central banks in Australia, Canada and Indonesia have also cut rates. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England are expected to follow. If the money-markets are right, more Fed cuts are in store. A composite measure of the global monetary-policy rate, compiled by Morgan Stanley, a bank, is expected to fall to 0.73% by June, from 1% at the start of the year and 2% at the start of 2019.

Yet there is an uneasy feeling that a flurry of rate cuts may not be the solution to this downturn. In part that reflects the fact that they are already so low. A golden rule of crisis-fighting is that in order to be credible you should always have more ammunition available. In 2008-10 the global composite policy rate fell by three percentage points. Today, outside America, rich-world interest rates are close to, at, or below zero. Even the Fed has limited scope to cut much further—one reason, perhaps, why share prices failed to revive in the hours after its latest move.

The tension also stems from the peculiarity of the shock that the economy faces—one that involves demand, supply and confidence effects. The duration of the disruption mainly depends on the severity of the outbreak and the public-health measures undertaken to contain it. Given those uncertainties, policymakers know that while interest-rate cuts are an option, they also need fiscal and financial measures to help business and individuals withstand a temporary but excruciating cash crunch.

One way the virus hurts the economy is by disrupting the supply of labour, goods and services. People fall ill. Schools close, forcing parents to stay at home. Quarantines might force workplaces to shut entirely. This is accompanied by sizable demand effects. Some are unavoidable: sick people go out less and buy fewer goods. Public-health measures, too, restrict economic activity. Putting more money into consumers’ hands will do little to offset this drag, unlike your garden-variety downturn. Activity will resume only once the outbreak runs its course.

Then there are nasty spillovers. Both companies and households will face a cash crunch. Consider a sample of 2,000-odd listed American firms. Imagine that their revenues dried up for three months but that they had to continue to pay their fixed costs, because they expected a sharp recovery. A quarter would not have enough spare cash to tide them over, and would have to try to borrow or retrench. Some might go bust. Researchers at the Bank for International Settlements, a club of central banks, find that over 12% of firms in the rich world generate too little income to cover their interest payments.

Many workers do not have big safety buffers either. They risk losing their incomes and their jobs while still having to make mortgage repayments and buy essential goods. More than one in ten American adults would be unable to meet a $400 unexpected expense, equivalent to about two days’ work at average earnings, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. Fearing a hit to their pockets, people could start to hoard cash rather than spend, further worsening firms’ positions.

Modeling the resulting hit to economic activity is no easy task. In China, which is a month ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the outbreak, a survey of purchasing managers shows that manufacturing output in February sank to its lowest levels since factory bosses were first surveyed in 2004. It seems likely that GDP will contract in the first quarter for the first time since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

Forecasters are penciling in sharp falls in output elsewhere (see chart 1). Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckons global GDP will shrink at an annualized rate of 2.5% in the first quarter. With luck the slump will end once the virus stops spreading. But even if that happens the speed and size of the economic bounce-back also depends on the extent to which those costly spillovers are avoided.

That is why central bankers and finance ministries are turning to more targeted interventions (see chart 2). These fall into three broad categories: policies to ensure that credit flows smoothly through banks and money markets; measures to help companies bear fixed costs, such as rent and tax bills; and measures to protect workers by subsidizing wage costs.

Start with credit flows. Central banks and financial regulators have tried to ensure that markets do not seize up, but instead continue to provide funds to those who need them. On March 2nd the Bank of Japan conducted ¥500bn ($4.6bn) of repo operations to ensure enough liquidity in the system. The People’s Bank of China has offered 800bn yuan ($115bn, or 0.8% of GDP) in credit to banks so long as they use it to make loans to companies badly hit by the virus. Banks have been asked to go easy on firms whose loans are coming due.

Governments are also helping firms with their costs, the second kind of intervention. Singapore plans corporate-tax breaks, and rental and tax rebates for commercial property. Korea will give cash to small firms struggling to pay wages. Italy will offer tax credits to firms that experience a 25% drop in turnover. In China the government has told state landlords to cut rents and given private-sector landlords subsidies to follow suit.

The final set of measures is meant to protect workers by preventing lay-offs and keeping incomes stable. China’s government has enacted a temporary cut to social-security contributions. Japan will subsidize wages of people who are forced to take time off to care for children or for sick relatives. Singapore has announced cash grants for employers of affected workers.

Today these policies are being sporadically announced, and their implementation is uncertain. As the virus spreads, expect more interest-rate cuts—but also the systematic deployment of a more complex cocktail of economic remedies. ■

As the Pandemic Spreads, Will There Be Enough Ventilators?

Patti Neighmond noted that as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads across the United States, there are continuing concerns among hospitals, public health experts and government leaders that hospital intensive care units would be hard-pressed to handle a surge in seriously ill patients.

A key limiting factor to being able to provide good care, they say, is the number of ventilation machines — ventilators — a hospital has on hand to help the most seriously ill patients breathe.

“The coronavirus, like many respiratory viruses, can cause inflammation in the lungs,” explains Dr. William Graham Carlos a pulmonary critical care specialist at Indiana University School of Medicine “And when the lungs become inflamed, the membranes that transfer oxygen from the air into the blood become blocked.”

When patients develop this type of viral pneumonia, they often require bedside ventilators which, Carlos says “can supply higher levels of oxygen and also help push air into the lungs to open them up, and afford more opportunity to get oxygen into the patient.”

Ventilators are generally a temporary bridge to recovery — many patients in critical care who need them do get better. These machines can be crucial to sustaining life in certain emergency situations. And if there is a surge in seriously ill patients, as COVID-19 spreads, ventilators could be in short supply, from hospital to hospital or nationally.

And if there’s an increase in very sick patients on a scale like what happened in China, Dr. Eric Toner says, the U.S. is not prepared. Toner studies hospital preparedness for pandemics at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“We are not prepared, nor is any place prepared for a Wuhan-like outbreak,” Toner tells NPR, “and we would see the same sort of bad outcomes that they saw in Wuhan — with a very high case fatality rate, due largely to people not being able to access the needed intensive care.”

Toner says all hospitals have some lifesaving ventilators, but that number is proportional to the number of hospital beds in the institution. An average-sized hospital with 150 beds, for example, might have 20 ventilators. If more were needed, hospitals that need them could rent them, he says — at least for now. But if there’s a surge of need in a particular community — patients with serious pneumonia from COVID-19 or pneumonia related to flu, for example — all hospitals in the area would be competing to rent from the same place. “So that’s a very finite resource” he says.

The latest study available estimates there are about 62,000 ventilators in hospitals nationwide. That figure is seven years old — so the actual number could be higher.

There are also some machines in federally stockpiled emergency supplies, though the exact number isn’t public.

“There is a strategic national stockpile of ventilators, but the numbers are classified,” says Toner. It’s been “publicly stated,” he says, that there are about 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile. “That number might be a bit outdated, but it’s probably about right,” he says. Other estimates range from 4,000 to somewhat less than 10,000.

You Have A Fever And A Dry Cough. Now What?

While any extra ventilators would be an important addition, Toner says it likely wouldn’t be enough to sustain the entire country through an experience like that seen in Wuhan, China.

If there’s not enough capacity at one hospital, it may be possible to transfer patients to another, he says.

“Not every community is going to be hit simultaneously; some cities will be badly affected while others are not so badly affected and then the wave of disease will move on.” So, in some cases, Toner says, it seems likely that patients could be transferred from an area where ventilators are scarce to an area where the supply is adequate.

But if hospitals continue to be overwhelmed, he says, at that point, “tough decisions would have to be made about who gets access to a ventilator and who does not.”

All health care providers and hospitals are now working overtime to try to prevent that sort of scenario.

Dr. Craig Coopersmith with Emory University School of Medicine, and a spokesperson for the Society of Critical Care Medicine, says he sees signs all across America that medical communities are working together to prepare.

Evergreen Hospital in Washington State, for example, which treated some of the first U.S. COVID-19 patients in late February, this week posted online its own “Lessons for Hospitals.” There has been a lot of ongoing communication, Coopersmith says, between hospitals, professional societies and individuals — in person, by phone and via shared Listservs and social media.

“In multiple ways, people are linking with each other to say ‘I’m not going to do this in isolation; tell me how you’re doing this, let me tell you how I’m doing this and let’s share lessons with each other,’ ” Coopersmith says.

The pandemic, he adds, is “remarkably challenging. But he sees the health care system’s response to it as remarkably heartening, “with everyone working together to ensure what’s best for patients, caregivers and the community.”

What does the coronavirus do to your body? Everything to know about the infection process

A visual guide of coronavirus infection, symptoms of COVID-19 and the effects of the virus inside the body, in graphics

Javier Zarracina and Adrianna Rodriquez reported that as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the U.S. – canceling major events, closing schools, upending the stock market and disrupting travel and normal life – Americans are taking precautions against the new coronavirus that causes the disease sickening and killing thousands worldwide.

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise the public be watchful for fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, symptoms that follow contraction of the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.

From infection, it takes approximately five to 12 days for symptoms to appear. Here’s a step-by-step look at what happens inside the body when it takes hold. 

Coronavirus infection

According to the CDC, the virus can spread person-to-person within 6 feet through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

It’s also possible for the virus to remain on a surface or object, be transferred by touch and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes.

Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, senior physician in the Infectious Diseases Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, said there’s still a lot to learn but experts suspect the virus may act similarly to SARS-CoVfrom 13 years ago.

“It’s a respiratory virus and thus it enters through the respiratory tract, we think primarily through the nose,” he said. “But it might be able to get in through the eyes and mouth because that’s how other respiratory viruses behave.”

When the virus enters the body, it begins to attack.

Fever, cough and other COVID-19 symptoms 

It can take two to 14 days for a person to develop symptoms after initial exposure to the virus, Hirsch said. The average is about five days.

Once inside the body, it begins infecting epithelial cells in the lining of the lung. A protein on the receptors of the virus can attach to a host cell’s receptors and penetrate the cell. Inside the host cell, the virus begins to replicate until it kills the cell. 

This first takes place in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, larynx and bronchi.

The patient begins to experience mild version of symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and headache and muscle pain and tiredness, comparable to the flu.

Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, however it’s relatively uncommon. 

Symptoms become more severe once the infection starts making its way to the lower respiratory tract.

Pneumonia and autoimmune disease

The WHO reported last month about 80% of patients have a mild to moderate disease from infection. A case of “mild” COVID-19 includes a fever and cough more severe than the seasonal flu but does not require hospitalization.

Those milder cases are because the body’s immune response is able to contain the virus in the upper respiratory tract, Hirsch says. Younger patients have a more vigorous immune response compared to older patients.

Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, however it’s relatively uncommon. 

Symptoms become more severe once the infection starts making its way to the lower respiratory tract.

Pneumonia and autoimmune disease

The WHO reported last month about 80% of patients have a mild to moderate disease from infection. A case of “mild” COVID-19 includes a fever and cough more severe than the seasonal flu but does not require hospitalization.

Those milder cases are because the body’s immune response is able to contain the virus in the upper respiratory tract, Hirsch says. Younger patients have a more vigorous immune response compared to older patients.

The 13.8% of severe cases and 6.1% critical cases are due to the virus trekking down the windpipe and entering the lower respiratory tract, where it seems to prefer growing.

“The lungs are the major target,” Hirsch said.

As the virus continues to replicate and journeys further down the windpipe and into the lung, it can cause more respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia, according to Dr. Raphael Viscidi, infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Pneumonia is characterized by shortness of breath combined with a cough and affects tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, Viscidi said. The alveoli are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.

When pneumonia occurs, the thin layer of alveolar cells is damaged by the virus. The body reacts by sending immune cells to the lung to fight it off. 

“And that results in the linings becoming thicker than normal,” he said. “As they thicken more and more, they essentially choke off the little air pocket, which is what you need to get the oxygen to your blood.” 

“So it’s basically a war between the host response and the virus,” Hirsch said. “Depending who wins this war we have either good outcomes where patients recover or bad outcomes where they don’t.”

Restricting oxygen to the bloodstream deprives other major organs of oxygen including the liver, kidney and brain. 

In a small number of severe cases that can develop into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which requires a patient be placed on a ventilator to supply oxygen. 

However, if too much of the lung is damaged and not enough oxygen is supplied to the rest of the body, respiratory failure could lead to organ failure and death. 

Viscidi stresses that outcome is uncommon for the majority of patients infected with coronavirus. Those most at risk to severe developments are older than 70 and have weak immune responses. Others at risk include people with pulmonary abnormalities, chronic disease or compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients who have gone through chemotherapy treatment. 

Viscidi urges to public to think of the coronavirus like the flu because it goes through the same process within the body. Many people contract the flu and recover with no complications. 

“People should remember that they’re as healthy as they feel,” he said. “And shouldn’t go around feeling as unhealthy as they fear.” 

Coronavirus Disease 2019: Myth vs. Fact 

There’s a lot of information circulating about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID), so it’s important to know what’s true and what’s not. Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, helps clarify information to help keep you and your family healthy and safe.

TRUE or FALSE? A vaccine to cure COVID-19 is available.

FALSE.

True: There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus right now. Scientists have already begun working on one, but developing a vaccine that is safe and effective in human beings will take many months.

TRUE or FALSE? You can protect yourself from COVID-19 by swallowing or gargling with bleach, taking acetic acid or steroids, or using essential oils, salt water, ethanol or other substances.

FALSE.

True: None of these recommendations protects you from getting COVID-19, and some of these practices may be dangerous. The best ways to protect yourself from this coronavirus (and other viruses) include:

Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and hot water.

Avoiding close contact with people who are sick, sneezing or coughing.

In addition, you can avoid spreading your own germs by coughing into the crook of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.

TRUE or FALSE? The new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.

FALSE.

True: Viruses can change over time. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. This is likely how the new coronavirus came to be.

TRUE or FALSE? Ordering or buying products shipped from China will make a person sick.

FALSE.

True: Researchers are studying the new coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. As of this writing, scientists note that most viruses like this one do not stay alive for very long on surfaces, so it is not likely you would get COVID-19 from a package that was in transit for days or weeks. The illness is most likely transmitted by droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough, but more information is emerging daily.

TRUE or FALSE? A face mask will protect you from COVID-19.

FALSE.

True: Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators (such as the N95) can protect health care workers as they care for infected patients.

For the general public without respiratory illness, wearing lightweight disposable surgical masks is not recommended. Because they don’t fit tightly, they may allow tiny infected droplets to get into the nose, mouth or eyes. Also, people with the virus on their hands who touch their face under a mask might become infected.

People with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others. Bear in mind that stocking up on masks makes fewer available for sick patients and health care workers who need them.

We all have to utilize the best actions to get through this pandemic with good hygiene, cleaning surfaces and social distancing. Remember, we have no vaccines, not antiviral agents proven to work. Therefore, we need to our immune systems and the health care system to flatten the outbreak curve. We need to take the police out of the equation and decision making and support our health care, our workers who will lose their jobs due to this pandemic and the economy. Now!!

My Millennial Doctor Peers Think They’re Walking Into a Crisis Regarding Health Care, Doctors Need to Understand Health Care and Buttagieg’s Health Care Plan, Corona Virus and Kobe.

Dr. Daniel E. Choi announced that ”Hey man, just wanted you to be one of the first to know that I put in my 90-day resignation notice at the hospital. Planning to pursue exec MBA…”

I did a double take at this shocking text from an orthopedic surgery colleague who was also a close friend. What? He was quitting?

We had just slaved through 5 years of orthopedic surgery residency, 1 year of fellowship, and just passed our oral boards. We were now supposed to be living the dream. All of that delayed gratification: throwing away our 20s holed up in the library, taking call endlessly on weekends and holidays. We did it for the ultimate privilege of being attending surgeons for our patients one day.

I called him right away and he confirmed my suspicions about why he quit. As an employed physician in a hospital system, he felt that he was sadly just becoming a cog in the machine, a “provider” generating relative value units. Administrators who had never done a day of residency or even stepped foot in his clinic wanted to provide “guidance” on how he should practice medicine. Overall, he felt that medicine was a sinking ship on which doctors were losing autonomy quickly and that this was a path leading straight to burnout.

I felt I had to let the Twitterverse know.

This tweet went viral and it was clear that I was on to something. I had struck a nerve with many of my physician colleagues. Surprisingly, many physicians empathized with my friend and didn’t blame him for looking elsewhere in finding a fulfilling career. Some physicians even thought he was doing the right thing.

I was getting really curious. I followed up with a Twitter poll: “Physicians, are you actively making plans for early retirement or considering how to possibly exit medicine in the near future?” Sixty-five percent of physicians who replied were considering an early exit from medicine.

This poll result was consistent with my own observation that early retirement online physician groups are burgeoning. Physician Side Gigs on Facebook, which seeks to help “physicians interested in pursuing opportunities outside of traditional clinical medicine…as a way to supplement or even replace their clinical income,” has over 50,000 members. Another Facebook group, Physicians on FIRE, aims to help physicians reach “Financial Independence. Retire Early” and has over 4000 members.

It is difficult to determine whether these physicians seeking early retirement are just wishfully complaining or actually planning an exit strategy. Many physicians answering the Twitter poll clarified that they loved treating and helping their patients but that the system had just become too difficult to deal with. Did this many physicians really want to leave the practice of medicine? What does that mean for our impending physician shortage? Why do so many of us feel the urge to get out?

Many discussions with disenchanted physicians ensued after that poll. In these discussions, I have found several common reasons that have pushed my colleagues to leave medicine.

Devaluation of Physicians on All Fronts

Devaluation appears to be happening on many fronts, according to my discussions with doctors online. There is the use of the term “provider” to replace “physician,” which more of us are finding offensive.

Mid-level providers who are cheaper for health systems to hire are replacing physicians. Reimbursements from commercial payers are declining. Health policy “experts” unfairly blame rising healthcare costs on physicians and have pushed legislators to find ways to lower physician compensation further. There are fewer physician meeting spaces in hospitals, such as doctors’ lounges or physician dining rooms, which used to serve as important spaces for physicians to commiserate and collaborate.

Overall, I sense great disappointment and anger among physicians about what many perceive to be increasing disregard for the tremendous amount of sacrifice physicians have made to complete their training. Physicians increasingly regret all of that time away from family or dropping their personal interests and hobbies during medical school and residency.Most shocking to me, however, is that physicians who speak out about such devaluation are often labeled “greedy doctors” by health policy “experts,” the press, and even fellow physicians (usually in the later stages of their career).

Loss of Autonomy and Independent Physician Opportunities

Personally, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and I knew fairly early on in training that I wanted to enter private practice. I thought private practice would allow me to insulate myself from many of the forces that pushed my orthopedic surgery colleague to quit.

Mine is not the popular path, however, as the number of millennial physicians who are entering private practice has rapidly declined over the past decade. According to Medscape’s Residents Salary & Debt Report 2019, 22% of residents say they anticipate becoming either a practice owner or partner. According to a survey by the Physicians Foundation and Merritt Hawkins, only 31.4% of physicians identified as independent practice owners or partners in 2018. In 2012, independent physicians made up 48.5% of all doctors.

The survey even revealed that 58% of doctors do not think that hospital employment is a positive trend and concluded that “many physicians are dubious about the employed practice model even though they have chosen to participate in it, perhaps fearing that employment by hospitals will lead to a loss of clinical and administrative autonomy.”

I used to wonder why more of my millennial physician colleagues did not choose private practice as a career path and why so many were choosing hospital-based employment. A line I saw on Twitter sums it up: “Private practice is no longer about profitability. It’s about financial sustainability.” With greater consolidation within healthcare, independent doctors have lost much of their leverage when trying to negotiate fair rates with commercial payers.

In addition, the costs of purchasing an electronic health record and running a staff to deal with authorization and billing issues have made private practice extremely difficult. If more private practice opportunities existed, I am sure that my millennial colleagues would absolutely take them to maintain their independence. However, such independent practice opportunities continue to diminish, and millennial physicians may be pressured to take the only available positions: hospital employment with possible restrictions on autonomy.

Is Your Career Worth Your Own Life?

On average, one doctor a day in the United States ends his or her own life. Physicians commit suicide at a rate twice that of the general population, and over 1 million patients will lose their doctors to suicide every year. Pamela Wible, MD, who studied 1363 physician suicides, points out that “assembly-line medicine kills doctors” and that “pressure from insurance companies and government mandates further crush the souls of these talented people who just want to help their patients.”

Just a couple of months ago, my fellowship director forwarded me an email about a young orthopedic surgeon who had committed suicide, Thomas Fishler. He was known to be a brilliant surgeon whom colleagues and patients loved, and is survived by his young daughter. My fellowship director included in his email, “I know you have an awareness of the risks that those in our profession often face.”

Many physicians are crying for help and nobody is listening. Some sadly feel that the only way out is to end their lives.

Physician suicide is heartbreaking and screams crisis. What is driving brilliant doctors to the edge? I believe it’s further evidence of compounding external pressures that are making the practice of medicine increasingly intolerable. Many physicians are crying for help and nobody is listening. Some sadly feel that the only way out is to end their lives.

I get chills as I push the thought quickly out of my mind: Am I being subjected to this risk? All physicians have their tough days but I have never been anywhere close to being suicidal. But seriously—is it really worth it if I am at even a small risk of becoming that miserable?

Is There an Impending Crisis?

The average millennial physician completes training, looks around, and sees his or her profession in complete shambles. Burnout is rampant. Doctors are committing suicide daily. Many seem to be miserable over their lack of autonomy and loss of standing. The physician starts to take a hard look at the career they are about to embark on and begins to have serious doubts. Then the physician remembers that student loan debt. The average medical student loan debt in 2018, according to AAMC , was $198,000. There’s really no way out at this point; even if your job is going to make you miserable, you are going to push through because you’re on the hook.

And this is where I start to get seriously worried. We will have an entire generation of graduating physicians who will be subjected to forces that have never been present in medicine before. And these forces are actively causing distress and misery among some of my colleagues.

I know that my millennial colleagues have tremendous resilience and grit, as every generation of physicians has in the past. But how long will they put their heads down and fight against these ominous forces before they decide that they’ve had enough and jump ship just like my orthopedic colleague did?

Hope in Advocacy to Avert Crisis

Don’t get me wrong—practicing medicine is still the greatest privilege, and I know that every one of my millennial physician colleagues loves their patients dearly. I am honored that my patients entrust me to take away their pain and suffering in the operating room. I’ve studied and trained for 14 years to become an attending orthopedic spine surgeon; I’m not giving up this privilege that easily. And neither are most millennial physicians.

Millennials may be viewed as entitled, but many of us see that as comfort in advocating for themselves and questioning the status quo.” I believe that millennial physicians will not quietly accept the current state of affairs.

I see many impassioned millennial physician advocates becoming active in organizations like the Medical Society of the State of New York or the American Medical Association. These organizations already do excellent advocacy work, and I predict that millennial physicians will become a powerful force within such organizations to protect their profession. Through a unified voice, organized medicine is truly our strongest hope in enacting systemic changes that can prevent further physician demoralization and burnout.

We’re not giving up just yet. The crisis can be averted. Our patients and profession depend on it.

America’s healthiest and unhealthiest states

Cortney Moore noted that when it comes down to the popular saying that “health is wealth,” the states that have high revenue streams and median household incomes also have populations that are wellness-focused. Particularly, the states with the healthiest people are concentrated in the northern half of the U.S. and West Coast, according to America’s Health Rankings annual report conducted by the United Health Foundation.

The United Health Foundation analyzed the 50 states on five core categories, including model behaviors, community and environmental factors, public policies for health care and preventative care, clinical care and the overall health outcomes that result from the previous four.

America’s Health Rankings used a composite index of over 30 metrics to create its annual snapshot of statewide healthy populations, which ultimately helped the organization determine the healthiest to the unhealthiest.

Moreover, the report cited the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” in addition to individual genetic predispositions to disease.

The healthiest state is Vermont, which has moved up from 20th place in 1990 to first place in 2019, according to America’s Health Rankings data. In the past 15 years, the state has decreased its air pollution by 47 percent – with fine particles per cubic meter going down from 9.7 to 5.1 micrograms. Additionally, Vermont’s disparity in health status decreased from 49 percent to 17.4 percent in the past year. Other strengths the report noted include low incidences of chlamydia, violent crime and the percentage of uninsured residents.

For the 2019 fiscal year, with the exception to the month of December (which data has yet to be released for at the time of publication), the state of Vermont made over $955 million in revenue from general funds, according to the Agency of Administration. More than $113 million came from health care taxes and assessments that were collected between January 2019 and November 2019.

The median household income in Vermont is $60,076, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which is close to the national median of $61,937. Moreover, average employee health care premium contributions for a family in the state is said to be $4,996, according to independent researchers at the Commonwealth Fund.

When it comes down to those who have government-funded health insurance plans, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not have up-to-date figures since it is collected on a quinquennial basis. However, the agency found that Vermont reported a little over $5.7 million in 2015 for health care expenditures, as noted in an infographic by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Outside the Green Mountain State, the other states that rounded out America’s Health Rankings top 10 are Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, Utah, New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington and Colorado.

The unhealthiest state is Mississippi, which has maintained close to 50th place from 1990 to 2019, according to America’s Health Rankings data. Since 1993, low birthweight in Mississippi increased from 9.6 percent to 21 percent of live births. In the past five years, premature death increased by seven percent from 10,354 to 11,043 years lost to people who died before age 75. Premature mortality has increased on a national scale in addition to diabetes and obesity. Other challenges the report noted include a high cardiovascular death rate and percentage of children in poverty.

For the fiscal year of 2019, the state of Mississippi made $166 million in revenue collections, according to the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office, which surpassed the state’s estimate by $30.5 million.

The median household income in Mississippi is $43,567, according to data from the U.S. Census, which is $18,370 less than the national median. Average employee health care premium contributions for a family in the state is $5,133, according to the Commonwealth Fund, which is only $137 more than the premiums employees in Vermont are paying. But, when coupled with Mississippi’s lower median income, the cost of health coverage is substantial.

Mississippi also surpassed Vermont in spending on government-funded health insurance plans. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that Mississippi reported over $21.5 million in 2015 for health care expenditures.

The other states that rounded out America’s Health Rankings bottom 10 were primarily in the South, including, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. Indiana was the only Midwestern state to land on the lower one-fifth of the unhealthiest states list.

On a national scale, American health is a mixed bag. Since 2012, smoking among adults has decreased from 24 percent to 16.1 percent, however, obesity among adults increased to 30.9 percent from 11 percent while diabetes among adults increased to 15 percent from 9.5 percent.

In the past three years, drug-related deaths have increased by 37 percent from 14 to 19.2 deaths per 100,000 people. When compared to America’s Health Rankings data from 2007, that is a 104 percent increase.

Environmental conditions have improved as air pollution decreased by 36 percent since 2003 and violent crime decreased by 50 percent since 1993. In the past four years, frequent mental distress increased from 11 percent to 13 percent, which has resulted in an increase of mental health providers, according to the report.

Infant mortality has decreased by 43 percent from 10.2 to 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in the past 29 years. However, low birth weight has increased by four percent from eight to 8.3 percent in the past three years, which also happens to be a 19 percent increase from 1993.

The average American spends more than $11,000 per year on health care and accounted for 17.7 percent of the U.S. GDP, according to estimates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. With spending projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5 percent per year, the U.S. will reach nearly $6 trillion in health care spending by 2027.

Buttigieg’s health care plan would save money while Warren and Sanders plans would cost trillions, analysis finds

Associate Editor Adriana Belmont reported that Health care has been a contentious topic among the Democratic presidential candidates: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) support Medicare for All while Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) and former Vice President Joe Biden offer alternatives to universal health care.

A new analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) took a look at the different plans and found that while each proposal would reduce the number of uninsured Americans, the least costly would be Buttigieg’s plan.

“Mayor Buttigieg’s plan would reduce deficits by $450 billion,” according to CFRB, adding that the policy would also “increase gross spending by $2.85 trillion, reduce costs by $1.2 trillion, and raise $2.1 trillion through direct and additional offsets.”

Through Buttigieg’s Medicare for All Who Want It plan, everyone would automatically be involved in universal health care coverage for those who are eligible. The policy would also expand premium subsidies for low-income individuals, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare, and limit what health care providers change for out-of-network care at double what Medicare pays for the same service. At the same time, those who still want to stay on private insurance can do so.

“This is how public alternatives work,” Buttigieg said. “They create a public alternative that the private sector is then forced to compete with.

CRFB estimated that the Indiana mayor’s plan would reduce the number of uninsured by between 20 to 30 million “by improving affordability and implementing auto-enrollment as well as retroactively enrolling and charging premiums to those who lack coverage.” 

‘Building on Obamacare’

Joe Biden’s health care plan, described as “building on Obamacare,” has an estimated gross cost of $2.25 trillion and would add $800 billion to deficits over 10 years. The CRFB also found that “it would reduce costs by $450 billion” and “raise $1 trillion through direct and additional offsets.”

Biden’s plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 15 to 20 million Americans and reduce national health expenditures by 1%. 

Some of his biggest revenue drivers in his plan include coverage expansion revenue feedback, which would create a public option, and end deductibility of prescription drug advertising. Additionally, his capital gains tax and “tax at death” would generate $550 billion.

‘Federal health expenditures would increase somewhat more’

Sen. Sanders, one of the original proponents of Medicare for All, has a plan that’s projected to add $13.4 trillion to deficits over a decade at a gross cost of $30.6 trillion. It would also raise $12.5 trillion in revenue through direct offsets and raise another $3 trillion through additional offsets.

His proposals to eliminate medical debt would cost $100 billion and would raise $1.7 trillion by reducing the costs of prescription drugs. To generate more money for the plan, Sanders would establish a 4% income surtax (projected to raise $4 trillion) and 7.5% employer payroll tax (estimated $4 trillion added). One significant cost in his plan, though, is offering universal long-term care — which would cost $29 trillion. 

“The reality is that Medicare for All will save American families thousands of dollars a year because they will no longer be paying premiums, deductibles and co-payments to greedy private health insurance companies,” Warren Gunnels, senior advisor for the Sanders campaign, told Yahoo Finance in a statement.

“If every major country on earth can guarantee health care to all and achieve better health outcomes, while spending substantially less per capita than we do, it is absurd for anyone to suggest that the United States of America cannot do the same.”

Overall, between 2021 to 2030, the CFRB estimated that Sanders’ plan would increase national health expenditures by 6%, “meaning that federal health expenditures would increase somewhat more than non-federal health spending would fall.”

‘Magical math’ or ‘the biggest middle class tax cut ever’?

Sen. Warren’s plan closely resembles Sanders’ in terms of cost. She stated her plan would cost $20.5 trillion in federal spending over a decade. CFRB found that the plan “would add $6.1 trillion to deficits over ten years under our central estimate.”

Experts disagree over the cost of Warren’s numbers, with one calling it “magical math” and another referring to Warren’s plan as “the biggest middle class tax cut ever.”

According to CRFB, the plan would increase gross spending by $31.75 trillion, reduce costs by $4.7 trillion, raise $14.2 trillion in revenue through direct offsets, and raise another $6.75 trillion through additional offsets. Her health care plan is estimated to increase costs by about 3%, but “the magnitude of these increases would decline over time.”

A major way to fund the plan would be through tax reform. By essentially eliminating tax breaks with private health insurers and requiring employers to contribute to her Medicare for All, she’s projected to generate an estimated $14.2 trillion. Other means of generating revenue for her plan include her wealth tax and a tax on bonds, stocks, and derivatives.

Both the Warren and Sanders plans would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 30 to 35 million and “nearly eliminate” average premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Patients can’t afford for doctors to misunderstand the healthcare business

Caroline Yao reported that When I was in medical school, my teachers started a lot of their stories with the same phrase:

“Back in my day, I still helped patients who couldn’t pay.”

“Back in my day, we didn’t have 100 checklists.”

“Back in my day, I didn’t need permission from insurance companies to do my job.”

“Back in my day, a yelp review couldn’t ruin my reputation.”

It happened so often that I wondered if I had shown up to the medical profession 30 years too late. Had I signed up for a sham fairytale?

I had thought doctors were autonomous, benevolent masters with kind voices and encyclopedic knowledge. After entering the field, I’ve found most young doctors struggle to balance convention versus empowerment, and doing good versus doing well. Doctors are the ugly stepchild of healthcare reform; too privileged to warrant help, but too powerless to do our jobs better.

I performed more than 2,500 surgeries during my residency training, and I am embarrassed to say that I do not know what a single one of my patients paid for their operations.

I later learned at the public hospital, surgeons were reimbursed $35 for each emergency appendectomy performed. Where did all that money go? Why didn’t the doctors question the system, or try to regain some control?

The provider will see you now

Somewhere along the way, my title as a doctor has been reduced to “provider,” and my worth dictated by administrators, insurance companies—and the government. The Hippocratic Oath I earnestly recited upon starting medical school is challenged everyday by a system of perverse incentives, where hospitals are paid more for treating the sick than keeping the patient well.

In 2013, 87% of graduating doctors felt uncomfortable with their knowledge of the business of medicine; 81% felt they lacked an understanding of healthcare legislation.

Is the answer that doctors should participate more in determining patient fees and reimbursement schedules? History shows that when doctors controlled payments more directly, graduated systems based on ability to pay were subtle but more ubiquitous. In the era of Aristotle, wealthy physicians did not accept payment, while poorer ones requested them. When 9th-century physician and scholoar Ishaq bin Ali al-Ruhawi wrote the first book of medical ethics, he described physicians as business owners who provided free services during times of patronage from caliphs and sultans. Throughout medieval Europe and during the Ottaman Empire, doctors treated the poor with the help of subsidies from royal courts and churches. Notable physicians such as Sir William Osler, legendary French surgeon and anatomist Guillaume Dupuytren, and physician and founder of Dickinson College, Benjamin Rush also charged rich and poor patients based on a self-made sliding scale.

Today, governments, universities, religious groups, and philanthropists are essentially modern-day barons who fund healthcare for the indigent through public hospitals, grants, and charitable work.

In the US, some physicians are granted partial and full student debt forgiveness from the government for working in underserved or rural communities. However, the majority of physicians who volunteer at free clinics, teaching hospitals, charities, or medical missions often do so only because their practice is flexible or lucrative enough to allow them both time away from paying jobs and the financial means to offer free services.

While physicians in private practice have autonomy over who they treat and how much they charge, physicians who work in hospital systems are more and more removed from managing the whole patient.

In 1983, 76% of doctors owned their own practice versus only 47% in 2016. Young physicians today are fundamentally unaware of the business side of medicine, and that’s bad news for everyone. As is the fact that medical students and residents are consistently and idealistically mentored to ignore the costs of materials and treatments we recommend.

We are taught to deliver care based on strict scientific evidence: the “gold standard” of care. Said gold standard, however, does not account for price, diminishing returns, convenience, or pain. The treatment that works best for a lab rat in a cage does not always translate to the most appropriate care for a person who has far more complex needs.

The cost of your health

A more pragmatic physician understands that patients who are underinsured, uninsured, or improperly educated will often forgo procedures, clinic visits, and medications when those interventions are too expensive or inconvenient.

Cost-conscious surgeons know that using instruments to tie stitches instead of hand-tying stitches can often result in a 10-fold cost savings without sacrificing quality.

I did not know how prohibitively expensive everyday surgical consumables cost until I went on humanitarian missions abroad and worked with surgical teams that could not afford these luxuries. I learned that hemostatic fabric we used like disposable napkins in the US cost $40 for a post-it sized square. A five-inch silicone band-aid costs $20. Bioengineered skin substitutes cost $10,000 for a palm-sized sheet.

My lack of price-awareness is fairly common. Many doctors have stopped accounting for the cost portion of a cost-benefit analysis.

And where doctors have leaned away from understanding cost, others have stepped in. Hospital administrators, governments, and insurance companies now manage the costs of healthcare. Correspondingly, physician compensation is estimated to be under 10% of total US national healthcare spending today. Overhead, administration, ancillary staff, malpractice insurance, and pharmaceuticals account for the majority of costs. For an appendectomy and associated care in 2018, the Medicare allowable compensation for a surgeon’s work is $394; meanwhile, healthcare watchdog organizations quote $13,000 as the fair price for hospitals to charge a patient and US hospitals bill an average of $31,000.

Most surgeons working in large hospitals are unaware of these numbers. They are therefore unable to tell patients how much they will be billed for a given operation. A surgeon in the 1830s in the company of the likes of Dr. Dupuytren would know these numbers.

Patients are often dismayed or surprised that their doctor cannot earnestly explain the cost-benefits of different treatments. A 2013 survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 87% of graduating doctors felt uncomfortable with their knowledge of the business of medicine and 81% felt they lacked an understanding of healthcare legislation.  As surgeons, we have slowly let ourselves become exclusively technicians. Just like Aristotle and Plato said.

By turning our noses up at the business of medicine, we have lost ownership over our patients, and the agency to advocate for them. As Osler said, “The good physician treats the disease. The great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

We as physicians and surgeons need to recover our identity and learn the business skills that our teachers have forgotten, but our forefathers stood up for.

As China’s Coronavirus Cases Rise, U.S. Agencies Map Out Domestic Containment Plans

Richard Harris reported that China has reported a large surge of cases of the novel coronavirus — upping its count from under 3,000 to over 4,500 as of Tuesday morning. More than 100 deaths have been reported. It is spreading rapidly in many provinces, and sporadic cases have now been reported in 18 other locations outside of China, including Australia, France and Canada.

In the United States, the case count remains at five — all people who had recently returned from Wuhan, China. And at a news conference Tuesday, top U.S. health officials reiterated that the disease — while serious — is not currently a threat to ordinary Americans.

“At this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety,” said Alex Azar, health and human services secretary, at the press briefing Tuesday.

While risk to most Americans remains low, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that “risk is dependent on exposure” and that health care workers or others who know they have been in contact with a person exposed to the virus should take precautions.

The federal government continues to adjust its approach to preventing the disease from taking hold in the U.S. On Monday night, the CDC and the State Department announced that a travel advisory recommending that Americans avoid travel to China when at all possible.

Airport screening is also being expanded from five airports to 20, with the goal of screening all passengers returning from China and letting people know what they should do if they fall ill after they get home.

The CDC is conducting contact investigations of people known to have been in contact with the five patients with confirmed infections, monitoring them for symptoms and testing them if concerning symptoms emerge.

Officials at the CDC are eager to get into China in order to help scientists there answer key questions — such as whether the virus can spread from people who don’t show any symptoms of illness. Azar said at the news conference that he had been pressing his counterpart in China for permission to send investigators.

That plea has been answered, at least to a certain extent. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that it had the green light to send outside experts to China. It was not immediately clear whether that will include scientists from the CDC.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that federal agencies are taking a three-pronged approach to respond to the novel coronavirus: developing and improving diagnostic tests, investigating experimental antiviral drugs, and working to develop a vaccine.

He said if it turns out that the virus can spread from someone who is not showing any symptoms, there would be some changes in the public health response. Similar coronaviruses from past outbreaks — severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome — did not spread in the absence of symptoms, but that doesn’t mean the new one will behave the same way. Viruses such as measles and influenza can be spread from people who aren’t showing signs of disease.

“Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks,” Fauci said. “The driver of outbreaks has always been a symptomatic person.”

And lastly condolences go out to the Bryant family and the other members of the helicopter crash in southern California. Kobe will be sure missed but loss of kids really upsets a father like me the most!

Decline in measles vaccination is causing a preventable global resurgence of the disease

UntitledNotreDame

What a horrible week with the burning or Notre Dame, the Democrats all piling on to tear apart the Mueller report and threaten to impeach the President and the tragedy in Sri Lanka. But the thing that really annoyed me is the increasing number of patients with measles, now over 500 in this country due to non vaccinated children, etc.. These anti-vaxers are spoiled and selfish. But I bet that when their children get really sick they will demand the best care from any and all hospitals, physicians and nurses out there or threaten to sue them. So, the Single-payer healthcare discussion will have to wait a week!

The NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases pointed out that in 2000, measles was declared to be eliminated in the United States when no sustained transmission of the virus was seen in this country for more than 12 months. Yes, you read that right; it was declared to have been eliminated. What happened then?

Today, however, the United States and many other countries that had also eliminated the disease are experiencing concerning outbreaks of measles because of declines in measles vaccine coverage. Without renewed focus on measles vaccination efforts, the disease may rebound in full force, according to a new commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine by infectious diseases experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Penn State University College of Medicine’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Measles is an extremely contagious illness transmitted through respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles that can remain in the air for up to two hours. Most often seen in young children, the disease is characterized by fever, malaise, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, cough, and a red, splotchy rash. Most people with measles recover without complications within a week. However, for infants, people with immune deficiencies, and other vulnerable populations, the consequences of measles infection can be severe. Rare complications can occur, including pneumonia, encephalitis, other secondary infections, blindness, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was developed, the disease killed between two and three million people annually worldwide. Today, measles still causes more than 100,000 deaths globally each year.

Measles can be prevented with a vaccine that is both highly effective and safe. Each complication and death related to measles is a “preventable tragedy that could have been avoided through vaccination,” the authors write. Some people are reluctant to vaccinate their children based on widespread misinformation about the vaccine. For example, they may fear that the vaccine raises their child’s risk of autism, a falsehood based on a debunked and fraudulent claim. A very small number of people have valid medical contraindications to the measles vaccine, such as certain immunodeficiencies, but almost everyone can be safely vaccinated.

When levels of vaccine coverage fall, the weakened umbrella of protection provided by herd immunity—indirect protection that results when a sufficiently high percentage of the community is immune to the disease—places unvaccinated young children and immunocompromised people at greater risk. This can have disastrous consequences with measles. The authors describe a case in which a single child with measles infected 23 other children in a pediatric oncology clinic, with a fatality rate of 21 percent.

Now, look at the situation in New York City.

If vaccination rates continue to decline, measles outbreaks may become even more frequent, a prospect the authors describe as “alarming.” This is particularly confounding, they note since measles is one of the most easily prevented contagious illnesses. In fact, it is possible to eliminate and even eradicate the disease. However, they say, achieving this goal will require collective action on the part of parents and healthcare practitioners alike.

New York Declares Measles Emergency, Requiring Vaccinations in Parts of Brooklyn

New York City on Tuesday declared a health emergency following a measles outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times reported.

Tyler Pager and Jeffery Mays reported that for months, New York City officials have been fighting a measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, knowing that the solution — the measles vaccine — was not reaching its target audience.

They tried education and outreach, working with rabbis and distributing thousands of fliers to encourage parents to vaccinate their children. They also tried harsher measures, like a ban on unvaccinated students from going to school.

But with measles cases still on the rise and an anti-vaccination movement spreading, city health officials on Tuesday took a more drastic step to stem one of the largest measles outbreaks in decades.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency that would require unvaccinated individuals living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to receive the measles vaccine. The mayor said the city would issue violations and possible fines of $1,000 for those who did not comply.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference in Williamsburg, adding: “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested.”

The measure follows a spike in measles infections in New York City, where there have been 285 confirmed cases since the outbreak began in the fall; 21 of those cases led to hospitalizations, including five admissions to the intensive care unit.

City officials conceded that the earlier order in December, which banned unvaccinated students from attending schools in certain sections of Brooklyn, was not effective. Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday that the city would fine or even temporarily shut down yeshivas that did not abide by the measure.

“There has been some real progress in addressing the issue, but it’s just not working fast enough and it was time to take a more muscular approach,” Mr. de Blasio said.

To enforce the order, health officials said they did not intend to perform random spot checks on students; instead, as new measles cases arose, officials would check the vaccination records of any individuals who were in contact with those infected.

“The point here is not to fine people but to make it easier for them to get vaccinated,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said at the news conference.

If someone is fined but still refuses to be vaccinated, Dr. Barbot said that would be handled on a “case-by-case basis, and we’ll have to confer with our legal counsel.”

Across the country, there have been 465 measles cases since the start of 2019, with 78 new cases in the last week alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.

In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half of the measles cases in the country, and the continuing outbreak has led to unusual measures.

In Rockland County, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City, county health officials last month barred unvaccinated children from public places for 30 days. Last week, however, a judge ruled against the order, temporarily halting it.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.CreditJohn Taggart for The New York Times

Despite the legal challenge to Rockland County’s efforts, Mr. de Blasio said the city had consulted its lawyers and felt confident it was within its power to mandate vaccinations.

“We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this,” Mr. de Blasio said. “This is a public health emergency.”

[In Rockland County, an outbreak spread fear in an ultra-Orthodox community.]

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said there was the precedent for Mr. de Blasio’s actions, pointing to a massive measles outbreak in Philadelphia in 1991. During that outbreak, officials in that city went even further, getting a court order to force parents to vaccinate their children.

“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Dr. Offit said about Mr. de Blasio. “He’s trying to protect the children and the people of the city.”

He added: “I don’t think it’s your unalienable right as a United States citizen to allow your child to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection.”

Nonetheless, the resistance to the measles vaccine remains among some ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn.

Gary Schlesinger, the chief executive of Parcare, a health and medical center with locations in Williamsburg and Borough Park, called the public health emergency a necessary “step in the right direction.”

“Any mother that comes in and says that they don’t want to vaccinate, our providers will tell them please go find another health center,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

He said he often reminded Orthodox parents that there was no religious objection to getting vaccinated. “Any prominent rabbi will say that you should vaccinate,” he said.

Just outside the public library where Mr. de Blasio held his news conference, some Hasidic mothers raised concerns about the emergency declaration.

“I don’t think it’s up to the city to mandate anything. We all have constitutional rights,” said a woman who only identified herself by Gitty. She refused to give her last name for fear of being harassed for her rejection of vaccinations.

She said she had five children and that none had been or would be vaccinated, an action she called “a medical procedure by force.”

“We are marginalized,” she said. “Every minority that has a different opinion is marginalized.”

In nearby South Williamsburg, reaction to the emergency order was mixed. Some agreed with the need for vaccinations, but did not believe the law should require them; others agreed with the mayor.

“He’s right,” said Leo Yesfriedman, a 33-year-old father of four who said he had his family vaccinated.

He said he had followed news of the measles outbreak. Of people in his community opposed to vaccinations, he said, “It’s a very, very little percentage of crazy people.”

Measles Outbreak: Yeshiva’s Preschool Program Is Closed by New York City Health Officials

The program is the first one to be closed as part of the city’s escalating effort to stem the country’s largest measles outbreak in decades.

Children leaving a yeshiva’s preschool program in Williamsburg on Monday. It is the first to be closed by New York City officials for violating a Health Department order.

The New York Times John Taggart reported that New York City closed a preschool program at a yeshiva in Brooklyn on Monday for violating a Health Department order that required it to provide medical and attendance records amid a measles outbreak.

The preschool at United Talmudical Academy, which serves 250 students between the ages of 3 and 5 in the Williamsburg area, is the first program to be closed by the city, as it escalates efforts to stem the country’s largest measles outbreak in decades.

New York City has confirmed 329 measles cases since the outbreak began in the fall, and the cases have largely been confined within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The outbreak began after unvaccinated individuals returned from celebrating Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival, in Israel.

The closing of the preschool comes as tensions have risen in the ultra-Orthodox community over increased scrutiny and fears of an anti-Semitic backlash. On the one hand, most in the ultra-Orthodox community are vaccinated, and the vast majority of prominent rabbis have urged people to vaccinate their children. However, the city’s response to the outbreak has caused vaccine skeptics to double down on their opposition to immunization. The anti-vaccination movement’s well-coordinated and sophisticated messaging campaign, highlighted by magazines, hotlines, and conference calls, has convinced some parents that vaccines are dangerous and that diseases, like measles, are not.

In December, the city issued exclusion orders, barring unvaccinated students from attending school in certain neighborhoods. The city issued violations to 23 yeshivas and day care centers for breaking that order. But, last month, the city said it would no longer issue violations; rather, it would immediately close yeshivas.

“The challenge has been with this particular school that they have been unable and/or unwilling to provide documentation as required when we visit,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference on Monday. “So we have visited on a number of occasions and offered support, but in spite of all of that it’s been to no avail.”

The Health Department said the preschool would not be allowed to reopen until its staff had “submitted a corrective action plan approved by the department.”

At the news conference, health officials said two students associated with the school had contracted measles, though they did not know for sure whether the students had been infected with the virus at the school or elsewhere.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency, requiring all individuals living in certain ZIP codes of Brooklyn to be vaccinated against measles or face a $1,000 fine. On Monday, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the order, arguing it was unjustified because of “insufficient evidence of a measles outbreak or dangerous epidemic.”

“Our attempts at education and persuasion have failed to stop the spread of measles,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. “We had to take this additional action to fulfill our obligation to ensure that individuals do not continue to put the health of others at risk. We are confident that the city’s order is within the health commissioner’s authority to address the very serious danger presented by this measles outbreak.”

A judge declined to issue an emergency injunction against the city on Monday, and the parties will appear in court on Thursday.

There have been no deaths associated with this outbreak, but 25 individuals have been hospitalized. Two patients remain in the intensive care unit.

90 New Cases of Measles Reported in the U.S. as Outbreak Continues Record PaceApril 15, 2019

“This outbreak will continue to worsen, and the case count will grow if child care programs and schools do not follow our direction,” Dr. Barbot said in a statement. “It’s crucial in this outbreak that child care programs and schools maintain up-to-date and accurate immunization and attendance records. It’s the only way we can make sure schools are properly keeping unvaccinated students and staff out of child care centers to hasten the end of this outbreak.”

A teacher at United Talmudical Academy, who declined to give his name, said that all students who were not vaccinated were sent home weeks ago.

“It was a few kids who didn’t take the shots,” he said, as he exited the building. “They’re not coming back.”

A 68-year-old community member, who declined to give his name, said he did not think the school should be closed down.

“The parents should be held accountable,” he said.

He added that the community will be “very angry” that the school was shut down.

Measles outbreaks have also been reported in Rockland and Westchester Counties, suburbs of New York. Since January, 555 cases of measles have been reported in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday, noting the outbreak is on pace to be the largest since the country declared measles eradicated in 2000.

Exemptions Surge As Parents And Doctors Do ‘Hail Mary’ Around Vaccine Laws

Barbara Feder Ostrov noted that at two public charter schools in the Sonoma wine country town of Sebastopol, more than half the kindergartners received medical exemptions from state-required vaccines last school year. The cities of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Nevada City, Arcata, and Sausalito all had schools in which more than 30% of the kindergartners had been granted such medical exemptions.

Nearly three years ago, with infectious disease rates ticking up, California enacted a fiercely contested law barring parents from citing personal or religious beliefs to avoid vaccinating their children. Children could be exempted only on medical grounds if the shots were harmful to health.

Yet today, many of the schools that had the highest rates of unvaccinated students before the new measure continue to hold that alarming distinction. That’s because parents have found end-runs around the new law requiring vaccinations. And they have done so, often, with the cooperation of doctors — some not even pediatricians. One prolific exemption provider is a psychiatrist who runs an anti-aging clinic.

Doctors in California have broad authority to grant medical exemptions to vaccination and to decide the grounds for doing so. Some are wielding that power liberally and sometimes for cash: signing dozens — even hundreds — of exemptions for children in far-off communities.

“It’s sort of the Hail Mary of the vaccine refusers who is trying to circumvent SB 277,” the California Senate bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, said Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Santa Rosa pediatrician. “It’s really scary stuff. We have pockets in our community that is just waiting for measles to rip through their schools.”

The number of California children granted medical exemptions from vaccinations has tripled in the past two years.

Medical Exemptions On The Rise

The number of California children with medical vaccine exemptions has tripled in the two years since California enacted a 2016 law banning exemptions based on personal beliefs.

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Across the nation, 2019 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for U.S. measles cases in a quarter-century, with major outbreaks in New York, Texas, and Washington state, and new cases reported in 12 more states, including California. California’s experience underlines how hard it is to get parents to comply with vaccination laws meant to protect public safety when a small but adamant population of families and physicians seems determined to resist.

When Senate Bill 277 took effect in 2016, California became the third state, after Mississippi and West Virginia, to ban vaccine exemptions based on personal or religious beliefs for public and private school students. (The ban does not apply to students who are home-schooled.)

In the two subsequent years, SB 277 improved overall child vaccination rates: The percentage of fully vaccinated kindergartners rose from 92.9% in the 2015-16 school year to 95.1% in 2017-18.

But those gains stalled last year due to the dramatic rise in medical exemptions: More than 4,000 kindergartners received these exemptions in the 2017-18 school year. Though the number is still relatively small, many are concentrated in a handful of schools, leaving those classrooms extremely vulnerable to serious outbreaks.

Based on widely accepted federal guidelines, vaccine exemptions for medical reasons should be exceedingly rare. They’re typically reserved for children who are allergic to vaccine components, who have had a previous reaction to a vaccine, or whose immune systems are compromised, including kids being treated for cancer. Run-of-the-mill allergies and asthma aren’t reasons to delay or avoid vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neither is autism.

Before California’s immunization law took effect, just a fraction of 1% of the state’s schoolchildren had medical exemptions. By last school year, 105 schools, scattered across the state, reported that 10% or more of their kindergartners had been granted medical exemptions. In 31 of those schools, 20% or more of the kindergartners had medical exemptions.

Seesawing Exemptions

As of July 2016, California no longer allows parents to exempt their children from state-required vaccinations based on personal beliefs. Many of the same schools that once had the highest percentage of students with personal belief exemptions now lead the state in student medical exemptions.

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Annotation 2019-04-22 220303

 

Credit: Harriet Blair Rowan/California Healthline

Source: California Department of Public Health Get the data created with Datawrapper

The spike in medical exemptions is taking place amid a politically tinged, often rancorous national conversation over vaccines and personal liberty as measles resurges in the U.S. and worldwide. At least 387 cases of measles had been reported nationwide through March 28, according to the CDC. In California, 16 cases had been reported, two of them requiring hospitalization.

The problem in California, state officials say, is how the immunization law was structured. It removed the ability of parents to cite “personal belief” as a reason for exempting their children from vaccine requirements in daycare and schools. A licensed physician who provides a written statement citing a medical condition that indicates immunization “is not considered safe” now must authorize exemptions.

But the law does not specify the conditions that qualify a student for a medical exemption, nor does it require physicians to follow federal guidelines.

The wording has led to a kind of gray market in which parents share names of “vaccine-friendly” doctors by word of mouth or in closed Facebook groups. And some of those doctors are granting children blanket exemptions — for all time and all vaccines — citing a range of conditions not supported by federal guidelines, such as a family history of eczema or arthritis.

Amid growing concerns about suspect exemptions, the California Department of Public Health recently launched a review of schools with “biologically unlikely” numbers of medical exemptions, said the agency’s director, Dr. Karen Smith. Doctors who have written questionable exemptions will be referred to the Medical Board of California for a possible investigation.

The medical board, which licenses doctors, has the authority to levy sanctions if physicians have not followed the standard medical practice in examining patients or documenting specific reasons for an exemption.

In recent years, however, the board has sanctioned only one doctor for inappropriately writing a medical vaccine exemption in a case that made headlines. Since 2013, the board has received 106 complaints about potentially improper vaccine exemptions, including nine so far this year, said spokesman Carlos Villatoro.

One pending case involves Dr. Ron Kennedy, who was trained as a psychiatrist and now runs an anti-aging clinic in Santa Rosa.

Medical board investigators took the unusual step of subpoenaing 12 school districts for student medical records after receiving complaints that Kennedy was writing inappropriate exemptions. They found that Kennedy had written at least 50 exemptions, using nearly identical form letters, for students in multiple communities, including Santa Rosa, Fremont, and Fort Bragg, saying that immunizations were “contraindicated” for a catchall list of conditions including lupus, learning disability, food allergies and “detoxification impairment.”

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and the medical board’s expert witness, said that the exemptions issued by Kennedy appear to have been provided “without appropriate evaluation,” according to court documents.

Kennedy has refused to respond to the board’s subpoenas seeking the medical records of three of his patients, according to court documents. The board has yet to file a formal accusation against Kennedy, and he continues to practice.

Like Kennedy, many of the doctors granting unorthodox exemptions cite their belief in parental rights or reference concerns not supported by conventional medical science. Kennedy is suing the medical board and its parent agency, the California Department of Consumer Affairs, saying the state did not have the legal right to subpoena school districts for his patients’ medical records without first informing him so he could challenge the action in court. The case is ongoing.

Kennedy declined to comment to Kaiser Health News. “I don’t want to be out in the open,” he said in a brief phone exchange. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got a business to run.”

In Monterey, Dr. Douglas Hulstedt is known as the doctor to see for families seeking medical exemptions. In a brief phone interview, he said he was worried about being targeted by the state medical board. “I have stuck my neck way out there just talking with you,” he said. Hulstedt does not give exemptions to every child he examines, he said, but does believe vaccines can cause autism — a fringe viewpoint that has been debunked by multiple studies.

In March, the online publication Voice of San Diego highlighted doctors who write medical exemptions, including one physician who had written more than a third of the 486 student medical exemptions in the San Diego Unified School District. District officials had compiled a list of such exemptions and the doctors who provided them.

State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician who sponsored California’s vaccine law, has been a vocal critic of doctors he says are skirting the intent of the legislation by handing out “fake” exemptions. Last month, he introduced follow-up legislation that would require the state health department to sign off on medical exemptions. The department also would have the authority to revoke exemptions found to be inconsistent with CDC guidelines.

“We cannot allow a small number of unethical physicians to put our children back at risk,” Pan said. “It’s time to stop fake medical exemptions and the doctors who are selling them.”

8 Common Arguments Against Vaccines And why they don’t make any sense at all

Gid M-K noted that because whilst vaccines have been accepted by public health organizations the world over as the most important medical innovation of the 20th century, and one of the most lifesaving interventions that we’ve ever come up with, there is a small minority of people who are convinced that vaccines are bad for their child’s health.

A small, very vocal, minority but this minority is causing real problems for others as well as their own kids.

One would like not to criticize parents. Because it’s very important to note that most parents want the best for their kids. They are trying to look out for their children, and occasionally in this pursuit, they get misled. And make no mistake, the people who sell vaccine fear are professionals in the art of deception. They know exactly how to convince a worried parent that the most dangerous thing in the world for their child is the vaccine, rather than, say, the measles.

It’s not the parents who are spreading vaccine denial. They are victims of professionals. If you are a parent who is worried about vaccination: don’t stress. You are a good parent. You have just been lied to. Have a read of this article, and maybe go have a chat with your doctor about why immunization is important and why it’s a good thing for your kids.

Whenever you talk vaccines, the anti-vax professionals come up with the same arguments time and again. Let’s look at my top 8, and why they make no sense whatsoever:

8

Vaccines Cause Autism. I’m not really going to go into this, because it has been refuted time and again. Virtually every study involving a) humans, b) more than 10 participants, and c) researchers who haven’t been convicted of fraud, has shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. It was a valid concern in the early 90s, but we have 30 years of evidence showing that autism is in no way linked to vaccines.

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM ALL REPUTABLE STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THIS FOR DECADES

7

There Hasn’t Been Much Research. This is always a bit of a weird one because people are usually claiming that on the one hand there hasn’t been enough research done on vaccines to prove them safe, but on the other, they know the truth because they’ve done their research and it shows vaccines to be basically poison.

It’s a strange argument to make, but it comes up all the time.

This is simply a lie told by vaccine-deniers to make parents scared. Vaccines are one of the most well-researched interventions of all time. We have data from literally millions of children across the world demonstrating their safety. There has been more research on vaccines than almost any other medical intervention.

The research has been done. Time and again. Vaccines are safe and effective.

6

Vaccines Are Enormously Profitable. This is also a weird one, because…so what? So are any number of things. The international flour market is gigantic, but that doesn’t make every bread advert a missive from the devil. Flour millers have actually been influential in protecting babies worldwide by fortifying their products with macronutrients and preventing neural tube defects.

It’s also untrue. Pharma companies make far more money from so-called ‘blockbuster’ drugs than vaccines — for example, AstraZeneca’s Nexium, despite being no more effective than cheaper options for gastrointestinal problems, has made them more than $50 billion. The yearly earnings have been somewhere between 2 and 5 times as much as the flu vaccine. In fact, if you look at the top 20 earners for pharma companies, not one of them is a vaccine.

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5

Vaccines Cost Loads. Perhaps more importantly than this, however: vaccines don’t cost much at all. Take the whooping cough vaccine. A full 3 doses costs around 100 USD. That seems like quite a bit until you remember that a single case of whooping cough can easily top $10,000if it requires significant treatment.

Vaccines are actually cost-saving. What this means is that for every dollar you spend on vaccines, you get about seven dollars back because you stop people from getting sick and dying from their illnesses. Generally speaking, it would be much more profitable for the medical industry to not vaccinate, because the disease tends to be really expensive.

4

The CDC Is Lying. This is one of my favorite red herrings because it is just so easy to disprove. Whenever someone brings up the CDC, my response is…so what? Let’s say the CDC is evil, awful, in the pocket of Big Pharma. It’s not — the people who work at the CDC are dedicated, honest, and usually incredibly good at public health — but for the sake of argument, let’s say the CDC is corrupt.

Who cares?

People who focus on the CDC ignore one glaring truth: the US isn’t the only country in the world. If the CDC is corrupt, what about every other public health organization in the world that recommends vaccines. Australia. France. The UK. Japan. China. The list goes on. Forget about the CDC. Have a look at the Australian Department of Health on vaccines. Or the Japanese immunization schedule. Or one of the hundreds of other countries that all choose to vaccinate. Either there’s a global conspiracy including countries that are literally at war with one another — a bit unlikely — or immunization is a good thing no matter what you think of the CDC.

3

The US Is Special. This is another one that I love because it’s so easily disprovable. No, the US doesn’t give a uniquely high number of immunizations. Much of the OECD has a virtually identical vaccine schedule to the US, bar a few minor differences. The US also has significantly less punitive laws in terms of vaccination than other countries — for example, in France, you can go to jail for failing to vaccinate your kids.

So no. The US isn’t special. It’s just another country, trying to stop nasty diseases like polio, diphtheria, and measles from killing children.

2

Vaccine Manufacturers Can’t Be Sued For Making Kids Sick. This is actually a very simple lie. You can sue whoever you want, even in the US. What the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act actually does is make it much easier to get compensation for children who have suffered vaccine injuries. If you can demonstrate that you had a vaccine and suffered a recognized issue — let’s say anaphylaxis — there is a reasonably simple method of gaining access to compensation in the US.

Elsewhere in the world, for example, Australia, often all you can do is sue in civil courts. And even if you’ve suffered genuine harm from vaccination, proving this in a court of law is next to impossible, meaning that people who do suffer injuries are almost never compensated.

It’s also worth noting that saying “vaccine manufacturers can’t be sued” is again a uniquely American piece of nonsense. There are hundreds of other countries. Most of them allow anyone to try and sue anyone. And yet, the UK court system isn’t flooded with cases of vaccine manufacturers being successfully sued.

I wonder why?

1

Vaccine Injury Is Common/People Are Getting Sicker. Last but not least, the most common one of the bunch. Forget the CDC, forget the pharmaceutical companies, this is the real evil.

Every year, people are getting sicker. And it’s all down to vaccines.

There are two parts to this story. Firstly, we aren’t getting sicker. Not even a little bit. Life expectancy is marching steadily upward, with some people predicting that we will be living past 100 in this century. Not only that, but infant and child mortality is at record lows, and is only heading swiftly down. This isn’t just true for wealthy countries mind you — the entire world is getting stubbornly healthier.

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Secondly, vaccine injury is an amazingly well-researched field. We know the rate of injuries associated with vaccines all too well. It’s a roughly 1 serious problem for every million vaccinations given. This is a number that has been replicated worldwide, from Japan to Thailand to Australia to Finland and yes, to the US.

Vaccines Rock

There’s not really much more to say. These are common arguments, mostly just based on simple lies. Vaccines are safe and effective, not because pharmaceutical companies say it’s so or because the CDC has proclaimed it, but because thousands of dedicated researchers the world over have spent decades checking to make sure that they are.

So go and get your kids vaccinated. It’s good for society, it will save us all money, but most of all it might save their life.

Vaccines rock.

It’s as simple as that. So, stop all your chest beating complaining about your constitutional rights being trampled on! Vaccinations are for the benefit of the children yours and those who will come in contact with non-vaccinated people and get severely sick. Cut it out and get vaccinated or suffer the consequences!!

Best wishes for the Easter and Passover holidays!

States Move To Restrict Parents’ Refusal To Vaccinate Their Kids. Our Goal and the Rest of the World!

50201675_1876827435780240_8947739925063663616_nI don’t know whether you all remember my last few sentences of last week’s post but I was so encouraged this week because it seems that maybe some of the politicians are reading my blog (yeah right!?!?) or they recognize the severity of the measles problem today. So, I want to continue the discussion starting with a number of States who get the message.

Patti Neighmond wrote that all U.S. states require most parents to vaccinate their children against some preventable diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough, to be able to attend school. Such laws often apply to children in private schools and day care facilities as well as public schools.

At the same time, beyond medical exemptions, most states also allow parents to opt out of this vaccination requirement for religious reasons. And 17 states permit other exemptions — allowing families to opt out of school vaccination requirements for personal or philosophical reasons.

Michelle Mello, a professor of law and health research and policy at Stanford University, says the bar for claiming an exemption from vaccine requirements has been very low in many states. “You can believe that vaccines don’t work or that they are unsafe or they simply fly in the face of your parenting philosophy,” she says.

But this winter’s outbreaks of measles across the nation are resulting in challenges to many exemptions: At least eight states, including some that have experienced measles outbreaks this year, want to remove personal exemptions for the measles vaccine. And some states would remove the exemption for all vaccines.

Most of this year’s measles cases have been among children who were not vaccinated against the virus.

Once considered eradicated in the U.S., measles has sickened at least 159 people since the start of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in outbreaks ranging from Washington and Oregon to Texas and New York. Last year, there were 372 reported cases of measles nationwide.

The move among state legislatures to tighten vaccine requirements is good news to Diane Peterson, the associate director for immunization projects with the pro-vaccine advocacy group Immunization Action Coalition.

“Measles is not like a common cold,” Peterson says. “Children get very, very sick and can be hospitalized,” she says, adding that measles can even lead to death.

The virus is highly contagious, airborne and easily spreads. It can survive in the air for a couple of hours.

“A patient with measles can go to the doctor, cough in the exam room and two hours later another patient coming into the same exam room can be infected,” Peterson says.

The virus is spreading fast this winter, she says, because of the “pockets of children who have not been vaccinated, mostly due to parents who have decided not to vaccinate them.”

This leaves not only those unvaccinated school children vulnerable to the virus but also many adults who have suppressed immune systems and infants who are not old enough to be vaccinated.

According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, bills to restrict exemptions are now pending in a growing number of states.

None of this sits well with activists who want their states to maintain personal and philosophical exemptions.

“Nobody should sit in judgment of another person’s religious and spiritual beliefs,” says Barbara Loe Fisher, a spokesperson for the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that lobbies against mandatory vaccination and thinks parents should have a choice. “No person should be allowed to force someone to violate their conscience when they’re making a decision about the use of a pharmacological product that carries a risk of harm.”

The scientific consensus about any risk from vaccines is that serious side effects are extremely rare. A suggestion that immunization might be tied to severe consequences like autism was debunked years ago after findings supporting that link were proved fraudulent.

Mello, the Stanford law professor who has been following the exemption debate, notes that the courts have repeatedly held that when a public health intervention is necessary to safeguard the public, individuals generally can be required to give up some personal liberty, particularly if that liberty is tied to a government benefit like school.

So far, only three states — Mississippi, West Virginia and California — prohibit nearly all vaccine exemptions, including the one exempting families who say their religious belief conflicts with vaccination. (All states allow medical exemptions when, for example, a child has a compromised immune system.)

The California state Legislature made that decision in 2015, less than a year after the state experienced a significant measles outbreak that got its first foothold among unvaccinated children visiting Disneyland.

A measles outbreak in the US has triggered debate on the ease with which parents can opt out of mandatory vaccine rules.

I noted last week that a total of 159 people have come down with the disease in 10 states since January, but one small area, in particular, Clark County in Washington State, has illustrated the dangers of these exemptions, which are sought for religious, personal or philosophical reasons.

Just north of Portland, Oregon, Clark County accounts for 65 measles cases, 47 of them among children under age 10. In almost all 65 cases, patients had not been vaccinated.

Fifteen years ago, 96 percent of school children aged five in Clark County got measles shots. But in 2017-2018, the proportion was down to 84 percent.

In some schools, mainly private ones, the rate of use of the so-called MMR vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella was only 20 to 30 percent. In some of the schools, more than half the students had received exemptions.

Local lawmakers in Washington State have responded to the outbreak by advancing legislation that would do away with exemptions on personal or philosophical grounds. Opt-outs for religious reasons would still be allowed.

Such exemptions are widely available in the United States. Only three of the 50 states—California, Mississippi, and Virginia do not allow them.

California did away with exemptions for personal reasons in 2015. In the most populous US state, exemptions are permitted only for medical reasons.

In recent years other states have toughened their laws. Connecticut, for instance, requires parents claiming an exemption for religious reasons to provide a yearly, notarized statement to this effect. Since 2015, Delaware has allowed schools to temporarily exclude non-vaccinated kids.

Vermont wants to get rid of religious exemptions, after eliminating those sought for philosophical reasons four years ago, according to The Washington Post. Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota are also debating stricter laws.

Congressional hearing

The US Congress will hold a hearing Wednesday on the issue of vaccinating children.

Overall, the vaccination rate of kids in the US has remained stable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors such trends closely.

It reports that in the 2017-2018 school year, around 95% of American kindergarteners were vaccinated against MMR, chicken pox and diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

But the national rate masks wide disparities from state to state and even from one school to the next, as the case of Clark County illustrates.

And health authorities are alarmed because the previous school year was the third in a row in which requests for exemptions from vaccination increased, even though the rises were small.

And the proportion of kids reaching age two without having received any kind of vaccination is also growing, albeit slowly: 0.9 percent of children born in 2011 to 1.3 percent among those born in 2015. Vaccination-free kids were practically unheard of at the turn of the century.

Exemptions alone do not explain why children are not vaccinated. Many vaccines are recommended for American children in their first two years of life—the CDC advises they be used for 14 diseases—and this is hard for parents to keep up with, especially for vaccines that require three or four shots.

Another problem is access to health insurance. Children in families without such insurance make up a disproportionate amount of those who go without shots, according to the CDC.

In Congress, the measles outbreak has prompted lawmakers to act.

The disease routinely infected American kids before a vaccine was introduced in 1963. Before that, it killed 400 to 500 people a year in the US. In 2000 it was declared eliminated. But since then, over the years anywhere from 50 to 600 cases have been reported annually.

Two US senators recently called on the CDC to explain what it is doing in response to what they called “pockets of unvaccinated people.”

‘We Need to Get to Zero’ on Measles: NIAID Chief to House Panel

I think we all agree and members from both parties express support for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine

Our friend Joyce Frieden, the News Editor of MedPage Today, reported that the views that some House committee members expressed Wednesday in favor of vaccination brought to mind a line from a character on a British television show: “I am unanimous in this.”

“It wasn’t until the development of the MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccine that we as a country were able to stop this horrific illness,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, at a hearing on recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. “But despite that success, here we are again 20 years later.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a ranking member of the full Energy & Commerce Committee, noted that one in four people diagnosed with measles will end up being hospitalized. “If we don’t reverse the downward trend in vaccination, we risk bringing back measles in full force,” he said.

DeGette called the recent measles outbreaks “a real cause for national concern” and pointed out that the national measles vaccination rate for children stands at 91%.

“That may seem high to some, but it’s well below the 95% vaccination rate required to protect communities and give them herd immunity,” she said. “And while the overall national rate of MMR vaccines is currently at 91%, the rate in some communities is much lower — some as low as 77%. Outbreaks like the one we’re seeing with measles remind us of just how interconnected our communities are … As a nation, to stop the spread of deadly diseases, we have to address the root cause of the problem and we have to define concrete steps … We need to support additional research into vaccine safety to further increase consumer confidence in these vaccines.”

Nearly 160 Cases This Year

Once again the numbers are important and so from Jan. 1, 2019 to Feb. 21, 2019, there have been 159 confirmed measles cases in 10 states, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the committee. The states reporting outbreaks include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. In 2018, 372 people in 25 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles; most of those cases involved unvaccinated people, she added.

Although measles was officially eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, and the rate of measles vaccination coverage is fairly high nation-wide, “there are pockets of people who are vaccine hesitant who delay or even refuse to vaccinate themselves and their children,” which can cause outbreaks, Messonnier said. Many of those live in close-knit communities where they share the same religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds as their neighbors. Others simply have a strong personal belief against vaccination.

“In the past 5 years, there have been 26 measles outbreaks of more than five cases, 12 of which were in close-knit communities, including a Somali community in Minnesota in 2017 and Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and New York state in 2018; these 12 outbreaks account for over 75% of cases in the past 5 years,” she said, adding that “Vaccine hesitancy is the result of a misunderstanding of the risk and seriousness of disease combined with misinformation regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. However, the specific issues fueling hesitancy vary by community” and must be attacked locally with the help of the CDC.

The federal government’s Vaccines for Children (VFC) program is a “critical component” of the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases, Messonnier said. “Because of VFC, we have seen significant decreases in disparities in vaccination coverage … For each dollar invested [in the program], there are $10 of societal savings and $3 in direct medical savings.”

‘I Am a Measles Survivor’

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, said that measles was “one of the most contagious pathogens we know of” and explained that since the virus has been well sequenced, “we can tell, when the virus is reintroduced into our country, from where it comes.” For example, researchers were able to determine that a measles virus that led to an outbreak among a community of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn in New York City came from Israel.

“I consider it really an irony that you have one of the most contagious viruses known to man, juxtaposed against one of the most effective vaccines that we have, and yet we don’t do and have not done what could be done — namely, completely eliminate and eradicate this virus.” Fauci showed a slide delineating the recent outbreaks. “This slide is really unacceptable; this is a totally vaccine-preventable disease … What we all should strive for, that measles in the United States, we need to get to zero.”

A few hearing participants shared their own experience with the disease. “I am a measles survivor,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas). “I was at an age where the measles vaccine was not available. Even though I was very young when that happened, I still remember … the heart-shaking chills, the muscle pain, and the rash that’s [emblematic] of measles.” Fauci said he also had the disease and that it was “very uncomfortable and very scary.” Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), the subcommittee’s ranking member said that one of his close childhood friends “was essentially born without a hand” after the friend’s mother contracted rubella during her pregnancy. “I’ve always thought of measles and how devastating it can be.”

Guthrie also asked Fauci whether people could “self-medicate” with vitamin A to prevent measles. Fauci responded that children with vitamin A deficiency who get measles “have a much more difficult course, so vitamin A [supplements] can actually protect you from some of the toxic and adverse effects,” but that doesn’t apply in developed countries where such deficiencies are rare. “It doesn’t prevent measles, but it’s important in preventing complications in societies in which vitamin A deficiency might exist,” he said.

The Thimerosal Question

Burgess asked about whether thimerosal — a mercury-containing preservative often mistakenly claimed to cause problems with vaccines — was in the measles vaccine. “No, it’s preservative-free,” said Fauci. Burgess asked whether there was ever any evidence that mercury or thimerosal was unsafe. Messonnier said thimerosal had been removed from vaccines “out of an abundance of caution at a time when there wasn’t enough evidence, but evidence since then has been very conclusive” that thimerosal is safe.

The hearing was also marked by a few disruptions, including some shouts from the audience when Fauci, responding to a question, said that the measles vaccine couldn’t cause encephalitis. DeGette told the audience that such disruptions were in violation of House rules; Messonnier then said that the vaccine doesn’t cause brain swelling or encephalitis in healthy children.

Guthrie remarked that whether or not parents choose to vaccinate their children, they do so with the best of intentions. “Whatever decisions they’re making, they’re making it in the love and best interest of their child,” he said. “So I think it’s important we do have the science … and people with credentials and reputations to present this evidence, and hopefully people have the opportunity to see it and read it.”

Measles cases soar worldwide, UN warns of ‘complacency’

Outside of the U.S., I think it is necessary to see how this disease is affecting other countries. I brought up the statistics regarding the incidence and the deaths in the Philippines but on a broader scale Cynthia Goldsmith reviewed the statistics with regard  of the measles problem in the world and noted that just 10 countries were responsible for three-quarters of a global surge in measles cases last year, the UN children’s agency said Friday, including one of the world’s richest nations, France.

Ninety-eight countries reported more cases of measles in 2018 compared with 2017, and the world body warned that conflict, complacency and the growing anti-vaccine movement threatened to undo decades of work to tame the disease.

“This is a wakeup call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease—a vaccine that saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF.

“These cases haven’t happened overnight. Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow.”

Measles is more contagious than tuberculosis or Ebola, yet it is eminently preventable with a vaccine that costs pennies.

But the World Health Organization last year said cases worldwide had soared nearly 50 percent in 2018, killing around 136,000 people.

Ukraine, the Philippines, and Brazil saw the largest year-on-year increases. In Ukraine alone, there were 35,120 cases—nearly 30,000 more than in 2017.

Brazil saw 10,262 cases in 2018 after having none at all the year before, while the Philippines reported 15,599 cases last year compared to 2,407 in 2017.

Taken together, the ten nations accounting for 75 percent of the increase from 2017 to 2018 account for only a tenth of the global population.

The countries with the highest rate of measles last year were Ukraine (822 cases per million people), Serbia (618), Albania (481), Liberia (412), Georgia (398), Yemen 328), Montenegro (323) and Greece (227).

While most of the countries that experienced large spikes in cases are beset by unrest or conflict, France saw its caseload jump by 2,269.

In the United States, there was a 559 percent year-on-year increase in cases from 120 to 791.

Misinformation and mistrust

The resurgence of the disease in some countries has been linked to medically baseless claims linking the measles vaccine to autism, which have been spread in part on social media by members of the so-called “anti-vax” movement.

The WHO last month listed “vaccine hesitancy” among the top 10 most pressing global health threats for 2019.

“Almost all of these cases are preventable and yet children are getting infected even in places where there is simply no excuse,” Fore said.

“Measles may be the disease, but all too often the real infection is misinformation, mistrust and complacency.”

In war-torn Yemen, where health services in many regions have collapsed, UNICEF and the World Health Organization joined with local authorities last month in a campaign to vaccinate some 13 children aged six months to 15 for measles and rubella.

UN officials estimated that 92 percent of the targeted children were jabbed during the one-week push, which ended on February 14.

Yemen also figured on UNICEF’s “top 10” list of countries showing the largest increases last year in measles cases with a 316 percent hike, from 2,101 cases in 2017 to 8,742 cases in 2018.

Other countries with huge jumps last year compared to 2017 are Venezuela (4,916 more cases, up 676 percent), Serbia (4,355 more cases, up 620 percent), Madagascar (4,307 more cases, up 5,127 percent), Sudan (3,496 more cases, up 526 percent) and Thailand (2,758 more cases, up 136 percent).

A few countries saw declines in the number of confirmed cases of measles.

In Romania, reported cases dropped 89 percent from 8,673 to 943, and in Indonesia, the number declined by 65 percent from 11,389 to 3,995.

Nigeria, Pakistan, Italy, and China also saw drops of 35 to 55 percent.

So, the number of worldwide resurgence of cases of measles is huge and we as a community need to step up and push our healthcare community and the government to step up and demand that we protect our youth both here in the U.S.A. and yes, in the world. Also, we need to ignore the politics and the misinformation and mistrust and get the job done for our kids, and future generations!