The FDA’s top leader says the US is approaching a tipping point on vaccines that could lead to ‘epidemics and maybe worse’


FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb

  • We asked FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb if there was one thing someone could do right now to fix healthcare.
  • Gottlieb quickly indicated vaccines, a crucial scientific advance that protect us from dangerous diseases. They have also come under attack from an anti-vaccine movement spreading false claims.
  • Current trends suggest that the US is approaching a tipping point on vaccines, Gottlieb told Business Insider. If attitudes toward vaccines change completely, “the implications could be quite profound,” he said. 

The US health system has all kinds of problems.

But when we asked FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb if there was one fix that could significantly improve the system, he quickly pointed to vaccines. He told Business Insider that it’s important that everyone get their shots.

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: The US plans to restrict sales of candy-flavored e-cigs at convenience stores before the top FDA leader leaves office

What we could do

Experts have become increasingly concerned about anti-vaccine sentiment.

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

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

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

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

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