An outbreak of measles in North Texas has so far sickened 22 people, and public health officials are now drawing a connection between the flare-up and a local church whose leader reportedly advocated against childhood vaccinations and linked them to the development of autism.
As far as health officials can discern, the outbreak started when a local, unvaccinated man returned from Indonesia, where measles remains prevalent. Having contracted the illness, he then spread it to several members of the Eagle Mountain International Church, located in Tarrant County, TX. From there, a handful of locals, ranging in age from 4 months old to 44, also contracted measles.
Officials are bracing for more patients
In all, officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services currently suspect that eight church members are suffering from the measles and several more in the community-at-large are also afflicted. Given just how contagious measles is — around 90 percent of individuals who aren't immune will contract it if they encounter someone with the illness — officials in Texas and its adjacent states are bracing for more patients. "If it finds a pocket of people who are unimmunized, and the majority of our cases are unimmunized so far, then if you are around a person with measles, you will get sick," Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health, said in a statement.
"You don't take the word of the guy trying to give the shot."
Of course, measles is extremely preventable: the measles vaccine, when administered properly, is 99 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When the vast majority of individuals in a community are vaccinated, this "herd immunity" prevents measles from taking hold. According to several reports, however, at least some congregants of Eagle Mountain were opting out of vaccinations — because church leader and televangelist Kenneth Copeland exhorted his followers to eschew them. In one 2010 webcast, Copeland describes immunizations as "criminal," saying that "as parents, we need to be a whole lot more serious about this ... in being aware of what is good and what isn't, and you don't take the word of the guy trying to give the shot." He goes on to discuss a potential link between vaccinations and the growing rates of autism among American children.
In the US this year, three measles outbreaks have been reported
Unfortunately, this latest outbreak is only the latest example of misinformation about vaccinations — perpetuated by disgraced scientist Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, among others — curbing herd immunity and reviving the risks of preventable illnesses. In the US this year, for instance, three measles outbreaks have been reported thus far and the number of overall measles cases has tripled since 2012. Whooping cough is also on the rise, with cases in 2012 reaching a level not seen since 1959, the CDC warned last year.
The extent of the measles outbreak in Texas remains unclear, but it has prompted Eagle Mountain church leaders to encourage vaccinations among congregants. "The risks associated during an outbreak really outweigh the risks during vaccination," reads a statement from Copeland's daughter, Terri Pearsons. "I strongly feel that our children and even adults of all ages need to be immunized."