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PunditFact fact-checks the Feb. 8 Sunday shows
The measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. (AP file) The measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. (AP file)

The measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. (AP file)

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll February 8, 2015
Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders February 8, 2015
Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman February 8, 2015

Sunday show talking heads continued to debate vaccinations of children -- specifically, how there should be no debate -- as they analyzed political missteps from the past week.

BBC World News America anchor Katherine "Katty" Kay made a startling comparison to highlight how Americans have been less diligent in making sure their children are properly immunized.

"There are countries in Africa where they have higher vaccination rates than here in the United States," Kay said on NBC’s Meet the Press. "Because when people really need it, and they see the effects that measles can have on their communities, they will make sure that their children vaccinate."

On the comparison, Kay is correct. Her claim rates True.

The World Health Organization, which recommends infants be vaccinated with at least one dose of the MMR vaccine before their first birthday, maintains immunization rates for the measles vaccine among 1-year-olds by country. The most recent data is for 2013.

There were 16 African countries that beat the U.S. rate of 91 percent for the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in 2013, according to the WHO data. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the measles immunization rate in the United States is 91.9 percent. But the WHO and CDC measure the statistic in different ways, and as you'll see, it doesn't make a difference.)

The countries with a rate at 92 percent or higher in Africa are Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

Of course, many African countries facing steep impoverished conditions have substantially lower rates, such as Central African Republic (25 percent), Chad (59 percent), Equatorial Guinea (42 percent), Ethiopia (62 percent), Nigeria (59 percent), South Sudan (30 percent) and South Africa (66 percent).

Still, Dr. Cathy Troisi, infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, said the nearly universal use of the measles vaccine in some parts of Africa is the result of a large international effort to reduce child mortality. Reducing by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate between 1990 and 2015 was one target of the United Nations millennium goals.

Unlike in some regions of Africa, where measles remains a leading cause of child death, some American parents are strangers to scary, eradicated diseases that afflicted prior generations, she said. Americans also generally value individual rights over community needs, she added.

"I’m old enough that I was born before the polio vaccine became available," Troisi said, "and you can bet when it came out, my mom was first in line to get me vaccinated. Part of the reason we’re seeing this refusal is because parents haven’t seen what these diseases can do."

Another big topic Sunday was the continued fight against the Islamic State. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and ABC’s This Week from Germany, to criticize the response from President Barack Obama.

One of Cruz’s refrains was that Obama is not providing weapons to Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq who are battling the Islamic State. "The Obama administration is refusing to directly arm the Kurds," he said on CNN.

That stood in almost direct conflict to what Secretary of State John Kerry said on Meet the Press. "We have supplied them with enormous amount of ammunition, weapons, other things. And others are supplying them," Kerry said.

So what gives?

The key is Cruz’s use of the word "directly." His claim rates Mostly True.

To make sense this debate, it’s crucial to understand that the Kurds are a semi-autonomous group. They clash with the Iraqi government in Baghdad because the Kurds -- along with Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria -- would like to be an independent nation. Leaders in Baghdad and the United States want Iraq to keep its current borders. However, cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds has at least appeared to improve recently due to the joint goal of defeating the Islamic State.

A State Department official told us that the United States has so far transported more than 3 million pounds of equipment to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government. These shipments have included: over 15,000 hand grenades, nearly 40 million rounds of machine gun ammunition, 18,000 assault rifles, 45,000 mortar rounds, 40,000 RPG rounds and 2,800 RPG launchers. The United States has also been training Kurdish forces and conducting air strikes on their behalf.

However, because the Kurds are not a fully independent nation, the United States must coordinate these transfers through the Iraqi government in Baghdad. It’s not that they’re refusing to directly arm the Kurds, as Cruz says, though. It’s the law -- required by the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act. Additionally, the United Nations prohibits transferring arms to Iraq other than on terms agreed to by the Iraqi government.

The State Department told us that the Iraqi government has approved all shipments and has even provided its own weapons to the Kurds.

But Cruz and others argue that this plan hasn’t achieved its intended goal because the Iraqi government withholds much of the military assistance. Quite a few Kurds have reported that they don’t have enough weapons, or they simply haven’t received the weapons the United States promised.

Based on recent conversations with Kurdish sources, Michael Gunter, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, said it’s true that the Iraqi government has stalled American weapons shipments intended for the Kurds. Gunter has written several books about the Kurds and visited the region in September.

He noted that there’s not much the United States could do legally to step over the Iraqi government and give weapons directly to the Kurds. That is, other than transferring the weapons covertly -- which Gunter believes is already happening. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

Gunter said Iraq is mainly concerned with making sure that the Kurds don’t break away. So they give the Kurds just enough weapons to get by, but not so much that they would be able to later turn them against the Iraqi government.

The United States faces a similar problem when considering how hard to pressure Iraq to ensure the weapons intended for the Kurds make it there.

"To one extent, we want to give the Kurds more weapons so they can fight ISIS, but if we give them too many weapons it might break up Iraq or make the government even more mad at us," Gunter said. "It’s almost a catch-22 situation."

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PunditFact fact-checks the Feb. 8 Sunday shows