Health Experts, Advocates Push for Vaccinations Amid Flu, Measles Outbreaks

In her 16 years as a practicing pediatrician, Dr. Dawn Johnson says some of the most formative years of her career came when she traveled abroad to a country that does not actively vaccinate its children.

It's where she witnessed the devastating and in some cases fatal effects of diseases like measles, pertussis, and tetanus -- diseases that are quite rare across the United States, due in large part to our country's immunization efforts. 

Though she always a strong believer in vaccines, that trip prompted her to actively advocate for them.

"I think it's one of the most important issues facing pediatrics," said Johnson, who serves as the Medical Director of the Children's Health Pediatric Group. "I've seen firsthand how vaccines protect vulnerable kids from childhood diseases."

A Texas-based non-profit called "Children at Risk" says when you hear testimonies like Johnson's, it's a bit head-scratching that the number of children who are unvaccinated statewide continues to grow at an exponential rate. 

"What really concerns us is that we see this growing culture of anti-vaccination happening in our state," said Dr. Bob Sanborn, President and CEO of Children at Risk. "We see it influencing our state legislature, we see it influencing the popular media. And what we are worried about is stopping horrible childhood diseases from really raising their ugly heads again in our society."

He points to the early 2000's, when Texas approved legislation that gave parents the ability to make their kids exempt from receiving certain vaccines -- even if their reasons were non-medical.

Since 2004, the number of unvaccinated children in Texas has grown from about 2,300 to more than 56,000. And they tend to live in clusters within the same communities and school districts.

Sanborn says that's particularly problematic when you see outbreaks of contagious diseases like the flu and measles -- pointing to recent flu-related school closures across North and East Texas.

And it's why he, Johnson, and others held a news conference Thursday morning in Dallas, urging parents to vaccinate their kids.

"It's your duty as a parent -- and as a Texan -- not only to immunize your own children, but to make sure that all children are safe," said Sanborn.

They emphatically insisted vaccines are safe for children.

And they said claims that vaccines lead to autism / other negative side effects are about as scientifically sound as claims that the earth is flat -- or the moon is made of cheese.

They encourage parents who have questions or concerns about vaccinations to speak directly with a doctor.

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