A megachurch has been identified by Texas officials as the epicenter of a measles outbreak that has sickened at least 21 people, including a 4-month-old baby. The church has reportedly taken an anti-vaccine stance in the past, but is now urging its congregants to be vaccinated, and is offering free vaccine clinics, according to ABC News.
The outbreak was sparked by a North Texas resident returning from a trip abroad to a country where measles is common, said a health alert from the Texas State Department of Health Services.
“Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected with the measles virus,” the health alert said.
Of the 21 people confirmed with measles, 16 of them live in Tarrant County, where Eagle Mountain International Church is located in Newark, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Dallas. Eleven of those Tarrant County patients had never received a measles vaccine, officials said. The others may have received incomplete vaccinations, but their status could not be documented, according to Tarrant County health officials. The 4-month-old baby was too young to be vaccinated.
Five additional patients reside in neighboring Denton County. Those cases were all linked to the outbreak in Tarrant County. None of them had immunization to measles.
Eagle Mountain International Church is part of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, headed by televangelist Kenneth Copeland. The church itself is led by Senior Pastors George Pearsons and Terri Copeland Pearson, who is the daughter of Kenneth Copeland.
Although a spokesperson for the church told ABC News that the church has “never taken an anti-vaccine position,” Senior Pastor Terri Copeland just voiced her concerns about vaccines in an August 15 statement on the church’s website.
“Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true. Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate enormously. I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations. The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time. There is no indication of the autism connection with vaccinations in older children. Furthermore, the new MMR vaccination is without thimerosal (mercury), which has also been a concern to many.”
The problem with Pastor Copeland’s concerns are that there is no scientific indication of an autism connection with vaccines, period. Saying that there is a connections promotes the false idea that vaccines aren’t safe, and that’s why this church is at the epicenter of a measles outbreak.
Another problem with Pastor Copeland’s statement is that actual doctors note that young children are among the most vulnerable to contagious disease.
“It is important to stick with the immunization schedule laid out by medical experts,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Delaying immunization leaves children susceptible to measles and other communicable diseases.”
Kenneth Copeland has also made anti-vaccine statements in the past. In an August 2010 broadcast of his show Believer’s Voice of Victory (start at the 20:10 mark of the video), he discussed the birth of his first great-grandchild with physician and supplement-seller Dr. Don Colbert. In the segment, Kenneth Copeland raises his concerns about vaccines:
“All of these shots and all this stuff that they wanted to put in his body…I got to looking into that, and some of it is criminal. You’re not putting a Hepatitis B in an infant. That’s crazy. That is a shot for sexually transmitted disease. What? In a baby?
“There’s this whole list of stuff that we as parents we need to be a whole lot more serious about this, in being aware of what is good and what isn’t, and you don’t take the word of the guy who is trying to give them the shot about what’s good and what isn’t.”
[Note: According to the World Health Organization, Hepatitis B is commonly transmitted from mother to child at birth. WHO recommends that all infants be vaccinated against Hepatitis B as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours.]
The conversation then veered into Dr. Colbert linking vaccines to autism.
Because, obviously, you don’t want to trust your pediatrician. Trust a guy selling supplements!
Kenneth Copeland also promotes faith healing on his website. A testimonial on the website for Kenneth Copeland Ministries explains how a 10-year-old boy was “healed” of his autism thanks to his mother’s “faith stand for Desmond’s healing.”
And now the church is the epicenter of a measles outbreak. Go figure. Apparently the “faith stand” doesn’t work on measles, though.
While measles is almost gone from the United States, it still kills over 150,000 people each year around the world, says the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO refers to measles as “one of the most readily transmitted communicable diseases and probably the best known and most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses.”
In the US, about 30 percent of measles cases result in complications, which include ear infections, diarrhea, and pneumonia, says the CDC. About 5 percent of children who become infected with measles will get pneumonia, the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children. About 1 in 1,000 children who get measles will also develop encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can leave them deaf or cognitively impaired. These complications can occur in otherwise previously healthy children.
Measles can also cause a very rare, but fatal degenerative disease of the central nervous system called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPC). SSPC can occur a month after infection, or 27 years after infection. Having the measles before you’re one year old — the age that children usually begin to be vaccinated against measles — raises the risk of having SSPC.
(Photo Credit: Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald, CDC)
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