White House urges parents to heed advice urging childhood vaccines

By Susan Heavey WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With U.S. measles cases on the rise, the White House on Friday urged parents to heed the advice of public health officials and scientists in getting their children vaccinated. "People should evaluate this for themselves with a bias toward good science and toward the advice of our public health professionals," President Barack Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. Asked whether people should be getting vaccinated, Earnest said: "That's what the science indicates." "The science on this is really clear," Earnest added. The measles outbreak has renewed a debate over the so-called anti-vaccination movement in which fears about potential side effects of vaccines, fueled by now-debunked research suggesting a link to autism, have led a small minority of parents to refuse to allow their children to be inoculated. Some parents also opt not to have their children vaccinated for religious or other reasons. Scientists defend the safety of vaccines. Earnest's comments came one day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to get vaccinated for measles. The highly contagious disease was officially declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after decades of intensive childhood vaccine efforts. Earnest said the White House will continue to closely monitor the current outbreak that has sickened more than 90 people in California and other states. Most of those cases are linked to infections that public health officials suspect were caused by an infected person from another country who visited the Disneyland theme park outside Los Angeles in December. The United States last year had its highest number of measles cases in two decades. Earnest, speaking at a daily briefing, said Obama believes decisions over vaccinating children should rest with parents. But he added that "the president believes that everybody should be listening to our public health professionals." Symptoms of measles include rash and fever, and the airborne virus can spread swiftly among unvaccinated people. Most people recover within a few weeks, although it can be fatal in some cases. It can cause serious complications such as blindness and pneumonia in those who are malnourished or have weaker immune systems. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)