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Decision to get vaccinated against measles is ‘almost obvious,’ says health official

(Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Measles is a contagious but preventable disease, and the choice to get vaccinated against it is "really almost obvious," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday.

The measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in December and continues to spread across the country has sparked a debate over whether parents should vaccinate their children. There are people with deep, philosophical reasons for refusing vaccines, but there are others who can be convinced otherwise, Fauci said during an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation." The CDC is working with local and state public-health officials to educate the public about the measles vaccine, he said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"You have a very good vaccine, you have a highly contagious disease, and you have a disease that's entirely preventable. When you look at the data, with a safe vaccine, the conclusion is really almost obvious," Fauci said.

The current outbreak is not yet a major epidemic, but it is affecting vulnerable populations, he said. It has been especially harmful to those who cannot get vaccinations, he said, such as children under 1, children with leukemia and others with weakened immune systems.

His comments referenced the concept of herd immunity, according to which a large segment of a population must be immunized to reduce the risk of exposure to everyone within the community, including the most vulnerable, who can't receive vaccines, or those who refuse them.

In a separate interview on "Fox News Sunday," retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said that concerns about side effects to vaccines have been "debunked." Carson, who said he could formally announce a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination by May, compared getting vaccinated to wearing seat belts or not engaging in texting while driving: "That's not optional. We know that it works."

"You look at the benefit-to-risk ratio for vaccinations: way in favor of getting them. Is there an occasional problem? An occasional allergic reaction? Of course there is. But you have to look at the overall good," Carson said.