DALLAS (AP) — A Texas megachurch linked to at least 21 cases of measles has been trying to contain the outbreak by hosting vaccination clinics, officials said.
The outbreak started when a person who contracted measles overseas visited Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth, Texas. Health department officials said those sickened ranged in age from 4-months to 44-years-old. All of the school-age children with measles were homeschooled.
"If it finds a pocket of people who are unimmunized, and the majority of our cases are unimmunized so far, then if you are around a person with measles, you will get sick," Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health, said Monday.
In Tarrant County, where the church is located, 11 of the 16 people with measles were not vaccinated while the others may have had at least one measles vaccination. None of the five people infected in nearby Denton County have been vaccinated.
In a sermon posted online, senior pastor Terri Pearsons encouraged those who haven't been vaccinated to do so, adding that the Old Testament is "full of precautionary measures."
"I would encourage you to do that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. Go do it. Go do it. Go do it. And go in faith," said Pearsons, whose father is televangelist Kenneth Copeland. But she added, if "you've got this covered in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith then don't go do it.
"The main thing is stay in faith no matter what you do."
Measles is spread by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with infected people; symptoms include a fever, cough, and a rash on the face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get two doses of the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, called the MMR. The first dose should be given when the child is 12 to 15 months old and the second at 4 to 6 years old.
Vaccination opt-out rates nationwide have been creeping up since the mid-2000s, spurred in part by the belief that the vaccinations routinely given to infants could lead to autism, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.