News of a Texas Measles Outbreak Shows Problems and Promise
It’s never good news when we hear of people in this country suffering from vaccine preventable diseases like measles. Especially since endemic measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But what is promising is that the mainstream media coverage of the recent measles outbreak in Texas has clearly come out on the side of science.
Earlier this month a measles outbreak occurred when an unvaccinated individual, who contracted measles while traveling overseas, returned to the U.S and attended church services at the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas. This person unknowingly exposed thousands of others to the disease, including infants in the church’s daycare facility that were too young to have been vaccinated, and who must rely on the protection of those around them.
The Texas outbreak was one of many throughout the country in the past few months. There were plenty of other measles outbreaks, pertussis outbreaks and even chickenpox outbreaks that hardly garnered any attention. And if the pastors of this church hadn’t been actively promoting prayer as a substitute for vaccination, this story of a Texas measles outbreak may have never had the appeal of mainstream media.
“Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true. …The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have a family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time.”
Not only does her statement contradict the scientific evidence that has shown multiple vaccinations and combination immunizations to be safe, but numerous studies have also completely debunked her accusation that vaccines are tied to autism.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only spiritual leader within the church who was heard peddling inaccurate science. Her father, televangelist Kenneth Copeland, was heard in video clips on CNN and various other news outlets, making erroneous claims about the safety of vaccines. During an August 2010 broadcast, Copeland expressed shock at the number of vaccinations recommended for his great-grandchild.
“I got to looking into that and some of it is criminal. … You don’t take the word of the guy that’s trying to give the shot about what’s good and what isn’t. You better go read the can or read the thing — find out what’s going on there and get the information on there because I’m telling you, it’s very dangerous the things that are happening around us all the time.”
Even after the outbreak was discovered, Pastor Pearsons is heard delivering a rather mixed message while addressing the congregation in this video. At first she first appears to be advising people to get vaccinated and to do so “in faith”, but then immediately contradicts herself by saying,
“Now if you’re somebody and you know, that you know, that you know that you’ve got this covered in your household by faith, and it crosses your heart of faith, well then don’t go do it.”
As news stories continued to circulate in response to the outbreak, a former parishioner, Amy Arden came forward to elaborate on the church’s position:
“There was a belief permeating throughout the church that there is only faith and fear,” Arden said. “If you were afraid of the illness enough to get vaccinated, it showed a lack of faith that God would protect and heal you.”
She went on to explain that a supervisor at the church’s nursery showed her how to opt out of a Texas law that requires most children to be immunized, and how she now regrets passing that lesson on to other parents. She even explained,
“I didn’t know a single mother who was vaccinating her children.”
While people have the right to forego vaccinations, most news outlets covering this story suggested that encouraging others to skip vaccinations can be dangerous and irresponsible. This is actually the promising part.
In the past, the media has sometimes sensationalized the vaccine conversation by pitting it as a “debate” between those who vaccinate and those who don’t. However, with every news report highlighting the benefit and safety of vaccines in relation to this outbreak, we witnessing a victory for science. The media wasn’t just reporting about a measles outbreak, but they were focusing on the concern that church leaders were persuading people not to vaccinate and doing so without any scientific evidence to support their claims.
We must realize that although the measles vaccine is one of the most highly effective vaccines we have, this is a disease that is extremely contagious. Studies show that 95 of every 100 children develop measles immunity after one MMR vaccine, and 99 of 100 children confer immunity after two shots recommended at ages 12-15 months and 4-6 years of age. But the virus can also remain active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours, and therefore 90% of people who are not immune will become infected if they encounter the disease. This is important to keep in mind, because we’ve been here before.
One of the most prominent immunization advocacy organizations in this country, Every Child By Two (ECBT), was founded in 1991 by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers in response to a measles epidemic that killed over 120 people, many of them children. By continuing to support strong immunization policies in this country, ECBT’s efforts over the years have been critical to reducing the spread of vaccine preventable diseases. But we mustn’t be complacent. Outbreaks like the one in Texas and many other states remind us of this.
You can stay informed on important immunization issues by signing up to receive information direct from Every Child By Two’s Vaccinate Your Baby campaign. By working together, we can do our part to ensure that children remain protected from dangerous, yet preventable, diseases.