We’ve been among the consistent voices decrying the anti-vaccination movement, a misguided, misinformed, willfully ignorant campaign to encourage people not to immunize themselves or their children against widely recognized threats to public health.
A story published last week by KaiserHealthNews.org and The Texas Tribune perfectly illustrates the consequences of this stupefying resistance to solid science that can be compounded by regulations that undermine the ability to track outbreaks of disease.
“A measles outbreak in a vaccination-wary North Texas megachurch and soaring rates of whooping cough across the state,” the story begins, “are drawing renewed calls for immunization legislation, which some lawmakers and medical professionals argue would help the state prevent public health crises.
” ‘Sometimes we as a society are not going to be convinced of something that makes sense unless we experience a loss,’ said Dr. Jason Terk, a pediatrician who serves on the Texas Medical Association’s council on legislation.”
A big part of the problem, as the association sees it, is that ImmTrac, the state’s immunization registry, requires people to opt in for their records to be retained. Conservatives say that’s necessary to protect privacy and individual liberty. The association says if people had to consent to opt out, more records would be retained, and more Texans would be protected against preventable diseases.
The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) has nearly eradicated measles in the U.S., but as the KHN/TT story notes, a persistent myth linking the vaccine to autism has prompted some communities to resist vaccination. In the last five years, the number of Texas parents seeking exemptions for their children from immunization has risen.
Without an exemption, children can’t attend public school if they haven’t been immunized.
In Tarrant County, an unvaccinated man contracted measles abroad and spread the disease to 20 people at Eagle Mountain International Church who had not been vaccinated or had not received a second dose of the MMR vaccine, as recommended.
Whooping cough is also a concern. The state issued a health alert this month to promote whooping cough vaccinations, whose effectiveness diminishes over time. Without adequate immunization, outbreaks occur every few years, and 2,000 diagnosed cases have been reported so far this year in Texas. Two infants too young to be vaccinated have died.
The state health department’s infectious diseases medical officer said that if cases continue to be diagnosed at the current rate, Texas will have the most whooping cough cases since the 1950s.
Protecting public health through immunization is a matter of good information being communicated well and respected by those who hear it. Although more than 9 in 10 Texans informed of the ImmTrac registry choose to participate, the KHN/TT story reports, many don’t even know it exists.
Texas epidemiologists-people who study the transmission and control of diseases-say that the first response to reports of a vaccine-preventable disease is to check ImmTrac to determine whether people in an outbreak area are properly immunized. If the records don’t draw a fairly complete picture, it’s that much more difficult to identify and address specific problems.
It’s even harder when people refuse to believe that immunizing works.