Latest measles outbreak tied to Texas megachurch

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivers a sermon.
Doctor Tabor enters a health center to give inoculations against measles to a group of children (West Virginia).

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Doctor Tabor enters a health center to give inoculations against measles to a group of children (West Virginia).

(RNS) Measles is making a worrisome resurgence across the U.S., with at least 135 documented cases this year — most recently at a Texas megachurch.

Measles, once a common childhood infection that killed up to 500 Americans a year, has been officially eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. For many years, the few dozen measles diagnoses in the U.S. were “imported” cases in individuals who traveled from countries where the virus remains common. High vaccination rates largely halted the virus at the North American border.

The country’s safety net has become more porous in recent years. Although overall vaccination rates remain high, communities of like-minded parents who refuse immunizations for their children have been vulnerable to outbreaks.

The latest measles outbreak is in Texas, where the virus has sickened 25 people, most of whom are members or visitors of a church led by the daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland.

Fifteen of the measles cases are centered around Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, whose senior pastor, Terri Pearsons, has previously been critical of measles vaccinations.

The outbreak was started by a visitor to the church who had recently traveled to a country where measles remains common, according to Tarrant County Public Health spokesman Al Roy.

Those sickened by measles include nine children and six adults, ranging in age from 4 months old to 44 years old. At least 12 of those infected were not fully immunized against measles, Roy said. The other patients have no record of being vaccinated. The 4-month-old is too young to have been received the measles vaccine, which is typically given at 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a classic example of how measles is being reintroduced,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

The U.S. has had more than twice as many confirmed measles cases this year than all of last year, when there were just 55, according to the CDC. Flare-ups brought on by foreign travel have caused that number to spike as high as 220 measles cases in 2011.

New York City also has battled a measles epidemic this year, with at least 58 cases, mostly in close-knit Orthodox Jewish communities. City officials say the outbreak was started by someone who traveled to the United Kingdom which, along with Europe, has suffered large measles outbreaks in recent years. One of the New York children with measles developed pneumonia. Two pregnant women were hospitalized and one suffered a miscarriage, city health officials say.

Other vaccine-preventable diseases also have broken out in recent years, including whooping cough and mumps. Some whooping cough outbreaks have clustered around private schools with lax vaccination requirements, according to CDC studies.

Measles particularly alarms doctors because it spreads like lightning and kills one in every 1,000 people infected. Officials in Oklahoma — which hasn’t had a measles case since 1997 — said the Texas outbreak has put them on alert for signs of the virus, which produces a characteristic red rash and high fever, and infects about 90 percent of unimmunized people who are exposed to it. The virus can infect people even two hours after a sick person has left the room.

In an Aug. 21 statement, Lori Linstead, director of immunization services at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said officials in her state, “are worried about the current outbreak of measles in Texas, because measles is very contagious, spreads like wildfire and can be very serious.”

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivers a sermon.

Screenshot photo courtesy Eagle Mountain International Church website

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivers a sermon.

At the Texas church, the visitor infected not only the congregation and staff, but the church’s on-site day care center, according to an announcement on Eagle Mountain’s website. Health officials notified the church of the measles outbreak Aug. 14, and the church sponsored a vaccination clinic Aug. 18.

All of the school-age children infected in the Eagle Mountain outbreak were home-schooled, health officials say. Texas requires children be vaccinated before attending school.

In an Aug. 15 statement, Eagle Mountain’s pastor, Terri Pearsons, said she still has some reservations about vaccines. “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,” she said.

Young children are actually among the most vulnerable to measles, Schaffner says. Their tiny airways can easily swell shut. “This is a sadly misinformed religious leader,” Schaffner said.

(Liz Szabo writes for USA Today)

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Liz Szabo


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  • It is good to see that it is not only the Poor Homeless People who are responsible for spreading Diseases.

  • Of course she’s misinformed;she’s Kenneth Copeland’s daughter,the biggest religious huckster and racketeer in the history of Evangelicalism!! I am absolutely incensed that this dangerously foolish woman would put these innocent little ones in harm’s way due to such profound ignorance;the sad part is that the parents of these helpless children would follow this woman’s ill-informed guidance and expose their precious youngsters to such needless,preventable suffering! Shame on all of them!!!

  • This is yet another example of the harm caused by the denial of evidence by some Christians. I suppose Jonathan Merritt may offer a vaccine safety denialist a favorable interview now, maybe someone like David Kirby. After all, he did so for the biological evidence denialists here (, and he said that he “will not ignore a perspective simply because I don’t agree with it or because it is unpopular.”

  • For Jon and others here, you might want to slow your roll a bit on the “denialist” propagandizing. There is certainly something to the idea that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism and other disorders in some small children. While you won’t here the mainstream media report on it, there have been numerous court cases in the last few years where Big Pharma has been forced to pay out millions to victims of such incidents involving the MMR vaccine. Researchers at major secular Universities have additionally published peer-reviewed articles in various medical journals outlining the potential risks involved in the MMR and certain children who might be genetically predisposed to mental illnesses or stomach disorders.

    The reality is that “denialism” might actually exist on the side of the drug companies and other organizations and individuals who profit from the proliferation of vaccines in recent years. Here are two articles with links to legitimate studies and court cases that should certainly cause us alarm:

    Now, that’s not to say that this woman has presented the evidence fairly or that she hasn’t practiced a little propagandizing herself (possibly to her own financial benefit), nor does this suggest that one shouldn’t get the vaccine later in life when evidence shows that it’s much safer for use in even higher at-risk individuals. But it does say that we need to be slow to judge all Christians, all homeschoolers, or all doctors and scientists who, when looking at legitimate evidence and research, conclude that the MMR vaccine shouldn’t be given to their children (at least not at the time prescribed by the American Academy of Pediatrics).

  • This is troubling, indeed. I, too, have been critical of the MMR vaccine, but not because of the autism link. The rubella portion of the MMR vaccine is derived from aborted fetal cells. Other vaccines also contain aborted fetal cells but there are ethical alternatives available. There is no alternative MMR vaccine available. After waiting sometime for an alternative to become available, we have decided not to wait any longer and have given our children the MMR vaccine.

  • What diseases, specifically, do you refer to as being spread by “poor Homeless People”? I’ve worked in Public Health in New York City for 25 years and am not familiar with that interesting epidemiological perspective. Truly enough, Poor Homeless People suffer higher incidences of certain diseases than the general population, but which diseases are you saying such people are “responsible for spreading”?

  • Not everyone who says to be “Christian” is a true Biblical Christian. Starting with”The Prosperity Theory” preached by Keneth Copeland there is none
    of that inThe Bible. In doubt? Check in The Written Word the Pharisee
    exactly position on “They were rich and in higher positions because they
    were blessed by God.” Then pay attention on what the very One Jesus
    Christ told them. Topping all, remember the story about the camel…and the rich… So, it is your fault if you just follow men…
    Tony D’Alessio.-