NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A CBS 11 I-Team investigation identified more than 70 school campuses in Dallas-Fort Worth that may be vulnerable to a measles outbreak based on low vaccine rates.
Research shows for vaccines to be most effective in preventing the spread of diseases, like the measles, and ensuring "herd immunity," at least 95% of a community needs to be vaccinated.
However, the data the I-Team found suggests dozens of North Texas schools may be falling short of meeting that threshold.
According to records the I-Team obtained from local school districts and the Texas Education Agency, 16 public and 55 private schools in North Texas reported more than 5% of their student body filed a vaccine exemption last year.
Dr Jason Terk, a pediatrician for Cook Children's, said he believes North Texas has put itself at risk of a major outbreak because more parents in recent years are choosing not to vaccinate their kids.
In the past five years, the vaccine exemption rates have more than double in Dallas and Tarrant Counties.
"This is not a theoretical concern, it's a real concern," said the Keller doctor. "And if and when it happens, nobody is going to be happy to say 'I told you so' but we will say unfortunately we could have prevented this."
A new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open predicts a large measles outbreak in Dallas-Fort Worth in which up to 400 people fall ill at a time.
Researchers said the findings are based on an increasing number of children showing up to school unvaccinated.
Measles cases have been on the rise in Texas in recent year.
In 2017, there was one confirmed case of the measles in Texas, according to the state health department. Last year, there were nine. So far this year, there have been 21.
Jackie Schlegel, the founder of Texans for Vaccine Choice, has campaigned to keep Texas one of the 16 states that allows parents to bypass vaccine requirements for school by filing a conscious exemption.
Schlegel said her organization is not anti-vaccination, rather it supports a parent's right to choose whether to vaccinate as well as medical privacy.
"We are all trying to make the best decisions for our children," the Arlington mother said. "I understand how you want to protect your child. I have to make these same decisions for my child. I too have a medically complex child. This is a fundamental issue. This is about who's best equipped to make that decision for your children – you or the state."
Schlegel adds many parents who file a vaccine exemption object to just one vaccine or the timing of the vaccine.
However, Teresa Batton, a Tarrant County mother of a 7-year-old cancer survivor, said she believes the state's vaccine laws needs to be stricter to protect everyone including the most vulnerable.
Batton's daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed two years ago with a rare cancer called, neuroblastoma.
She underwent chemotherapy, then a stem cell transplant.
While her cancer appears to be gone, the chemotherapy wiped out her immune system.
The vaccines Olivia received as an infant her body has now forgotten leaving her vulnerable to illnesses like the measles.
Doctors said for Olivia contracting measles could be deadly.
"It still is like a huge battle with everything," Batton said. "Hasn't Olivia gone through enough? It's time for her to be a kid and she should not have to worry about this."
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