Reps. Maloney & Shalala Host Vaccine Forum at Hunter College

May 30, 2019
Press Release

NEW YORK, NY – Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-FL), former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, today hosted a roundtable discussion on the importance of vaccines for public health in the wake of the measles outbreak in NYC. The Congresswomen were joined by Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College; Councilman Ben Kallos; Dr. Jason Schwartz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Yale School of Public Health; and Dr. Adam Ratner, Director of Pediatric Infectious Disease at NYU Langone.

At the roundtable, participants discussed what the federal government could do to better support local programs working to improve vaccination rates and how to combat misinformation campaigns about vaccines and vaccine safety.

“In recent weeks, New Yorkers have been reading headlines that are quite shocking. Measles, a highly contagious and deadly disease that was eliminated in the United States almost 20 years ago, is back and its reappearance is a failure of public health. And so, I thought it was imperative to hear directly from the experts here on the ground and from former HHS Secretary and current Congresswoman Donna Shalala as she was able to secure the highest immunization rates in the history of the country while serving at HHS,” said Rep. Maloney. “Congress has stepped up its oversight to understand how these outbreaks happen but our solutions must be  driven by the experts on the ground who have stopped outbreaks before and are combatting the disease today.”

“In just five months, we have seen 971 cases of measles in 26 states across the country. This disease is preventable but requires widespread vaccination to ensure we protect individuals and our broader community,” said Rep. Shalala. “It is always better to prevent disease than to treat patients after they’ve gotten sick, and vaccinations are essential in creating safer, healthier communities. During my tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services, childhood vaccination rates were at an all-time high. We need to build upon the progress that we’ve already made and continue to invest in practical resources and counter misinformation so we can save lives and prevent measles and other diseases from spreading.”

The topic of vaccination has understandably caused parents lots of concern,” said Jennifer J. Raab. “Thoughtful discussion to get us to universal vaccination is an important step to progress, and Hunter College is proud to play a role in such discussions.”

"At a time that we are seeing measles outbreaks in New York City and throughout our nation due to the grown of the anti-vaccination movement, I am grateful that Congress Member Maloney is educating residents on the important of vaccines," said Council Member Ben Kallos.

“Since the first cases last autumn, New York City's medical centers have faced significant challenges during this historic measles outbreak,” said Dr. Ratner. “Measles is highly contagious -- much more so than most other viruses -- and it causes disproportionately severe disease in young children. About 5% of children who contract measles require hospitalization for treatment of pneumonia or other complications, and about 1 in 1000 cases is fatal. Measles infection weakens the immune system, leaving children susceptible to a variety of other infections for years to come. We are fortunate that there is a safe and effective vaccine against measles, which allowed us to stop the spread of measles within the United States 20 years ago. Now we face the challenge of unethical and highly vocal anti-vaccine groups preying on parents who, because they may never have seen someone suffer with measles, may decide to forego protecting their own children. These unvaccinated children are the core of the current outbreak. They are the ones being hospitalized -- in some cases requiring intensive care -- and they and their families are the true victims of these malicious groups. Now, as we focus on educating families, preventing new infections, and caring for the sick, it is important that bold legislative steps be taken to promote vaccination and eliminate non-medical vaccine exemptions. Such actions can help contain this outbreak and prevent future ones.

“The ongoing measles outbreaks in New York and elsewhere were entirely preventable through vaccination,” said Dr. Jason Schwartz. “The Federal government can support the work of state and local health officials by leading a coordinated national campaign, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, promoting the value and importance of vaccines and by supporting research, through the National Institutes of Health, aimed at identifying the most effective strategies for health care providers to use when addressing parental questions and concerns regarding childhood vaccines.”

"I am grateful to Congresswoman Maloney for arranging the forum to discuss and help dispel myths against vaccination together with Congresswoman Donna Edna Shalala – who has vast experience in academia and health including previously serving as HHS Secretary,” said Rabbi David Niederman, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn. “Unfortunately, these myths are spread all over and have followers in all communities, and there are groups actively pushing these false messages. Tonight's informed and intellectual discussion will hopefully help dispel the myths and spread the importance of everyone getting vaccinated."