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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Councilman Mike Fagan questions need for vaccines

Three days after the Spokane Regional Health District asked every adult and child in the region to get vaccinated against measles, health board member and Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan questioned the use of vaccines and said recent outbreaks of contagious disease are linked to illegal immigration.

“LOTS OF CONTROVERSY ON WHETHER OR NOT GOVT SHOULD MAKE VACCINATIONS MANDATORY,” Fagan wrote Saturday on his personal Facebook page, where he has more than 1,000 friends. “I believe that more will rise to the surface as the vaccination debate heats up. Kind of like the global warming thing, one day there is, and another day there isn’t. Only science will tell.”

On his page, Fagan, who has been clear in his skepticism of climate science for years, posted an article from that purportedly showed a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism in African-American males.

Dr. Joel McCullough, the county’s top public health official, dismissed Fagan’s statements, noting that links between vaccination and autism have been “completely debunked.”

“Vaccination is the only real way to contain these contagious diseases,” McCullough said. “If you want to prevent disease, this is what you do. There is no other way to prevent disease.”

Fagan, however, said he stands behind what he wrote, arguing that any discussion of infectious disease has to include the subject of illegal immigration, which he said was the source of recent outbreaks.

“Until I see media coverage otherwise, the science leads me to believe that the comeback of these diseases is because of the influx of illegal aliens,” he said. “Do I get vaccinations now? No, I don’t. … What I tell people is, get your vaccinations at your own risk. Buyer beware. Do your due diligence.”

Fagan, one of 12 members on the county board of health, took credit for bringing Ebola to the attention of the health district.

“I like Dr. McCullough, but I’ll tell you something, I’ve had to drive some of these conversations,” he said. “Say, Ebola for instance. … I had to push the health district to take Ebola seriously. I’ve had to drive that sense of urgency.”

Measles hit the news recently after an outbreak that began at Disneyland in California spread to 14 states, including four cases in Western Washington. Though there are no reported cases in Spokane yet, the health district asked people to make sure their MMR vaccine is current.

Over 90 percent of the 102 measles cases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for January are linked to the outbreak in Southern California. Most of the people who got the measles were not vaccinated.

According to the health district, measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, and leads to a rash covering the entire body.

One out of 1,000 children with measles will suffer from brain inflammation, and one or two will die from the disease.

McCullough said that a lot of misconceptions about vaccines and their risks stem from a public not comfortable with scientific subjects as well as a lack of understanding about the “pre-vaccine era.”

“Before vaccines, there were 3 to 4 million cases of measles a year (in the U.S.), and four to 500 people died,” he said. “Basically, it’s just a matter of looking at the science. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.”

McCullough said theories of vaccines leading to autism, while not based in science, “lives on on the Internet and in the media.”

“This topic’s been extensively studied in the states and overseas,” he said. “The science is clear.”

McCullough briefly examined the article Fagan posted and pointed out that it was “written by someone with a bachelor’s degree in a journal I’ve never heard of.”

“I’m not convinced,” McCullough said.