TRANSYLVANIA COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says if states don’t require more schoolchildren to get vaccinated, the federal government might have to step in.
Right now, North Carolina state law allows parents to exempt their child from vaccines for medical or religious reasons only.
According to a state report, Buncombe County had the highest rate in North Carolina of religious exemptions last year.
"We are seeing trends, with families being less comfortable with the immunization schedule, and wanting to make modifications," said Elaine Russell, Transylvania County health director.
Just this year, the World Health Organization named the anti-vaccine movement as one of the top global health threats.
"We are distressed when we see parts of the community modify or step away from the immunization schedule," Russell added.
So is the head of the FDA, which is one of the reasons he believes the federal government might soon have to step in.
"We are wholeheartedly in support of compliance with the immunization schedule," said Russell.
Nearly all states allow children to attend school, even if their parents opt out of vaccines.
These vaccine exemptions are especially popular in Washington state–where a measles outbreak started last month.
New York has also been working to contain its largest outbreak in decades, which began in October and has sickened more than 200 people.
Here in the mountains, we haven’t seen anything as extreme as that, but Russell worries that might not always be the case.
"We have forgotten what it is to lose our children to vaccine-preventable diseases," she said.
Russell said vaccines are critical for the health, wellness and protection for children and the community.
"As local public health in North Carolina, we all robustly support the immunization schedule," Russell added.
As of right now, the FDA commissioner has not elaborated on when the federal government should take action, or what exactly that action should be.