Fort Worth, Texas,
12:04 PM

Doctors Fear Measles Outbreak Could Happen in Texas

State among 21 reporting cases of disease once thought eliminated

As a new school year begins, a 15-year-long trend of parents refusing to vaccinate their children in Texas may put your child at serious risk for diseases like measles.

That’s the concern of many of the state’s physicians based on new numbers from the Texas Health and Human Services department.

In its Annual Report of Immunization Status, 56,738 kindergarten through 12th grade students were reported as having a conscientious exemption on file at the school. This number represents 1.07 percent of the number of students reported enrolled by schools in the survey.

This is on top of a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states that Texas is one of 21 states that is currently being monitored for the spread of measles. The CDC says there has been 107 cases reported this year and that the majority of those cases weren’t vaccinated.

The amount of children who aren’t receiving at least one vaccination for a nonmedical reasons has been steadily on the rise since Texas lawmakers passed what’s known as conscientious exemption in 2003. Parents and legal guardians can choose for their child not to receive an otherwise required immunization for their child because of reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.

Fifteen years ago, about 2,300 students opted out of at least one vaccine.

In an editorial in the Star-Telegram that urged parents to provide immunization for their children, Dr. Peter Hotez warned that “we are extremely vulnerable to a measles outbreak in Texas.”

Dr. Hotez, who is director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, recently co-authored a study on vaccine exemptions published by the Public Library of Science Journal of Medicine.

Texas was named one of 18 states that allows non-medical exemptions, and identified Tarrant County and Fort Worth as national “hot spots” for a potential outbreak. The study found that parents of at least 518 kindergartners in Tarrant County schools last year opted to not get preventive shots for their children.

“These numbers are very concerning,” said Justin Smith, M.D., a pediatrician and Medical Advisor for Digital Health at Cook Children’s. “In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country. Now, more and more kids aren’t getting immunized and diseases like measles has returned to this country. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Measles is very serious. Measles can cause pneumonia and children under the age of 5 have a higher risk of hospitalization.”

Dr. Hotez’s study found that children not given the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are 35 times more likely to contract measles than a vaccinated child.

Keeping vaccination rates relatively high (somewhere around 90 percent) actually helps protect all children (vaccinated or not) from diseases, Dr. Smith said. In addition, when outbreaks occur, even children who are vaccinated become at risk for contracting disease due to the number of possible exposures.

"Populations who choose to not follow the recommended vaccine schedule for themselves and for their children are actually setting up the perfect conditions for the diseases they are unvaccinated for to erupt into an outbreak. It is really not a question of whether these outbreaks will occur but when," Jason Terk, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician.

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