Op-Ed: The Next Disneyland Could Be Austin; Be Wise – Immunize

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Dr. Ernest Buck, a pediatrician from Corpus Christi, is chair of the Texas Medical Association Council on Health Promotion. We are pleased to bring you this op-ed about the importance of vaccination.

The Next Disneyland Could Be Austin;Be Wise – Immunize
By Dr. Ernest Buck, Chair, Texas Medical Association Council on Health Promotion

The Disneyland measles outbreak hasn’t made its way to Texas, yet. But it’s only a plane ride away. And depending on where that plane lands, we could be in for some big health problems — especially if it’s in Travis, Williamson, or Hays Counties.

It’s hard for Texans under a certain age to remember, but measles is a serious, highly contagious disease. It can cause serious complications in children. Some will die. This is not an exaggeration. This is reality.

Thanks to a very effective vaccine, we declared measles completely eliminated in the United States just 15 years ago. But we were wrong, in large part because not everyone gets vaccinated anymore.

The measles vaccine is safe and effective. It provides almost complete immunity to the disease. Let me repeat that. The measles vaccine is safe and effective, and it provides almost complete immunity to this terrible disease. That means children can be spared the effects of disease and do not need to die.

Until 2003, almost every schoolchild in Texas was required to be immunized against measles and nine other awful — but vaccine-preventable — diseases. Children whose physician certified they could not get a vaccinations for health reasons were allowed into school without the shot. For 2004, that was about 3,000 students.

Then the law changed, allowing parents to file a form stating they had a personal or religious objection to the immunizations. District-by-district data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is available on its website, shows that the number of students with an exemption reached nearly 38,000 last year.

What’s more concerning, though, is that those exemptions tend to be clustered in certain communities and school districts. That means if one unimmunized child in one of those schools contracts measles, it will spread rapidly through his or her unimmunized classmates.

One of those clusters is nearly all of the large school districts in Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties. The Austin, Leander, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hays, Georgetown, Lake Travis, and Dripping Springs independent school districts all have exemption rates well above the statewide average of 0.75 percent. Austin ISD, at 1.60 percent, is more than double the statewide average and sixth highest among the state’s 100 largest districts.

If measles strikes one of those schools, students will be home sick for a week or more (and a parent will likely have to miss work to care for them). One in 20 will be so ill they’ll need to go to the hospital. One or two in 1,000 could die.

It’s not just those whose parents claimed an exemption who are at risk, though. It’s also the infants who are too young to get the vaccination. And those whose immune systems are damaged by necessary medical treatments or other diseases, such as leukemia.

Here are some simple facts about measles:

  • We had no cases in Texas from 1990 through 2000. We had just 17 cases from 2004 to 2012. In 2013, 27 cases of measles were reported in Texas. Last year, we had 10.
  • This is a highly contagious disease, and someone with measles can be infectious for four days before the spots appear on his or her skin. If someone with measles coughs or sneezes in a small room, the virus can live for up to two hours in the air. Nine out of 10 unimmunized people who walk into that room will catch the measles. Ebola was not airborne; measles is.
  • The measles vaccine works. That’s why we are able to wipe the disease out in this country.
  • The measles vaccine is safe. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that the measles vaccine causes autism.

As a pediatrician, a parent, and a grandparent, I cannot urge you strongly enough to make sure your children are vaccinated — against measles, mumps, pertussis, chicken pox, and all those other diseases we can stop with a simple shot. (Pertussis, or whooping cough, is another major threat in Texas right now. It killed five children in Texas in 2013 and at least two last year; all were less than 1 year old.)

Education — on the dangers of these diseases and the unquestionable benefits of vaccinations — is the key to protecting our children.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. But, please, be wise — immunize.

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Burnt Orange Report

Burnt Orange Report, or BOR for short, is Texas’ largest political blog, written from a progressive/liberal/Democratic standpoint.

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