The science is sound: Vaccines do save lives

I chaired a Senate health committee hearing last week on vaccine-preventable diseases – ongoing outbreaks that pose a significant risk to public health – and the importance of immunizations. Not only has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found them to be safe, but vaccines also save lives.

Vaccines have been so successful that, until recently, Americans have lived without fear of getting measles, polio or rubella. Vaccines protect not only those who have been vaccinated, but also the larger community. Despite their life-saving capabilities, however, there is a lot of misleading and incorrect information about vaccines that circulates online, including through social media.

Here is what I want parents everywhere in our country to know: Vaccines are approved by the FDA and meet the FDA’s gold standard of safety. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices makes recommendations on the use of vaccines in the United States and annual child and adult vaccine schedules, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviews and approves these recommendations.

There is nothing secret about any of this science. It is important for those who have questions about vaccines, especially parents, to speak with a reputable health care provider. As with many topics, just because you found it on the internet, doesn’t make it true.

It was not that long ago that, as a boy, I remember the terror in the hearts of parents that their children might contract polio. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, contracted polio when he was young. His mother took him to Warm Springs, Ga., because that is where President Roosevelt received treatment for polio. Fortunately, because of her dedication, Leader McConnell is able to walk today. But thousands of others were not as lucky.

Following the introduction of a vaccine in 1955, polio was eliminated in the United States in 1979, and since then, it has been eliminated from every country in the world except for three. Polio is just one of the diseases we have eradicated in the United States thanks to vaccines, and they have saved the lives of not only those who receive vaccinations, but also the lives of those who are too young or vulnerable to be immunized.

LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-Tenn.) is the senior U.S. senator, former Tennessee governor and former U.S. Secretary of Education for 1991-1993. He chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and also serves on the Committee on Appropriations, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Committee on Rules and Administration. Alexander may be reached at his Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-4944 or via his website contact page at