Texas Republican congressman and noted crazy person Rep. Louie Gohmert is at it again. After warning the American people about terrorist babies and “moo goo dog pan”, he's now decided to alert Americans to the terrors of vaccines.
Gohmert spent part of his August recess as a guest host on the Family Research Council's Washington Watch. Last week, Gohmert interviewed another noted crazy person, Republican activist Alan Keyes. In the interview, Keyes argued that liberals are using vaccines to put humanity “on a path toward our own semi-extinction,” so that elites could gain control of the world. Gohmert, who already contended liberals think the world is overpopulated, said in agreement, “That's a scary thought.”
Of course, if Gohmert had actually been paying attention to reality, he would have seen ample evidence of how harmful not vaccinating actually is. The past few weeks have seen a measles outbreak making its way through North Texas, just a few miles away from Gohmert's district. The outbreak, which has infected 21 people already, has been tied to a megachurch that preaches anti-vaccine propaganda.
Read about how the outbreak began, and how vaccines could have stopped it after the jump. Most of the cases have been linked to Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, TX, which is about an hour and a half northwest of Dallas. Since the outbreak, the church has set up free vaccination clinics on its premises. Pastor Terri Copeland Parsons, daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland, released a statement claiming that she's not anti-vaccine, but she does have “reservations” about vaccines and autism. The original study linking vaccines to autism has been found to be fraudulent, and subsequent studies have debunked the autism claim even further. But science hasn't been enough to convince Parsons or Copeland, who have both been known to tell congregants to trust their faith in God over modern medicine. In an online sermon posted following the outbreak, Parsons and her husband urged parishioners to get vaccinated, unless “you've got this covered in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith, then don't go do it.”
The measles outbreak began when a man visited Indonesia, where the measles virus remains common, contracted the virus, and then returned to Texas. Unaware he had the virus, he attended church services, and even reportedly came into contact with people in the childcare room. That sparked an outbreak, which has affected individuals ranging in age from a four-month old baby to a 44-year old adult. 16 of the 21 cases were not vaccinated, and the remaining 5 may have had at least one vaccine but do not have any vaccination records. Most of the confirmed cases have been in Tarrant County, though there have been a few in neighboring Denton County as well. Because measles is so contagious, public health officials as far away as Oklahoma are going on alert.
In many ways, vaccination has become a victim of its own success. Before the measles vaccine was invented in 1954, almost all children got the disease by the age of 15. According to the CDC, before vaccination became commonplace in the US, “about 450-500 people died because of measles, 48,000 were hospitalized, 7,000 had seizures, and about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness.” The effectiveness of vaccines led to measles being declared to be eliminated in the United States in 2000. There used to be only about 60 cases a year, all originating from overseas. Because people like Gohmert and Parsons have never lived in a world where they've had to see widespread consequences of diseases like measles, they don't understand the danger of promoting their anti-vaccine agenda.
Measles can be a dangerous disease, and its complications include pneumonia, brain swelling, and death. The number of cases of measles has skyrocketed over the past couple years due to misinformation spread by Gohmert and others. There were 222 cases of measles in the US in 2011, much more than the average of 60 cases a year that preceded it. In Texas, there were 0 cases of measles in 2012. This year, there have been 27, and the majority of them are associated with the Eagle Mountain megachurch.
We all know Louie Gohmert is crazy. But when he makes outlandish claims about vaccines, he's dangerous too. If people listen to his whacked-out conspiracy theories and refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children, they're putting communities at risk for extremely preventable diseases. And though it's not the one Gohmert meant, that's a scary thought indeed.