Health officials pleading with parents to vaccinate as measles cases climb

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the number of measles cases continues to climb, local health experts are pleading with parents to vaccinate their children.

A group of health experts made the plea at an elementary school Wednesday.

"This is a resurgence," Harris County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Umair Shah said. "This is a renewed increase in measles activity in our community."

After only three Texas measles cases from 2015 to 2017, the number has risen to over 15 in the past 13 months.

"We saw this train coming," Dr. Peter Hortez with Baylor College National School of Tropical Medicine said. "This train was coming down the tracks."

Hortez said the latest state estimate is that 60,000 kids are not getting vaccines. When it comes to measles, kids are supposed to get two doses.

Their first round should start at 1 year old, and the other round should start at 5 years old. After receiving the first dose, experts say the vaccine is 93 percent effective. After the second, it's 97 percent.

Experts say measles is especially deadly for infants.

With the number of cases rising, experts say parents need to pay attention.

"It begins with a cough, pink eye, or red eye, called conjunctivitis, and a runny nose," Hortez said.

After that, look for a rash starting at the head. Experts said a growing anti-vaccine movement is driving the cases up, by allowing more parents to opt out.

This is why some groups are pushing for transparency legislation during this session. Immunization Partnership wants Texas lawmakers to open medical records to parents so they're told how many kids at their school aren't vaccinated.

"The state and schools collect data about exemption rates, but that data isn't available to parents," Immunization Partnership president Allison Winnike said.
Texans for Vaccine Choice disagrees. The director said knowing which children aren't vaccinated should remain a medical privacy. Her group is fighting to give parents more choice.

Right now, Texans can get exemptions for a number of reasons including medical and religious beliefs. But some wonder if that should be changed.

"We need to stop that because we're continuing to see more legislators introducing bills that weaken our public health infrastructure and parents need to say enough is enough," Winnike said.
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