Record measles cases create priority for Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio

Center's researchers create vaccines, do outreach/education, pull funding

SAN ANTONIO – Measles cases have officially surpassed the highest number on record since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

There have been 681 cases reported across 22 states this year. One of those cases was reported in Bexar County.

That has made measles a clear priority for the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio, a special joint effort between four prestigious local research centers addressing vaccine-preventable diseases.

Dr. Joanne Turner is not only the vice president for research at Texas Biomed. She's also the new executive director of the Vaccine Development Center.

"(We are) focused on vaccines funding, research for vaccines and then also doing public outreach and awareness for vaccines," she said.

The center is a unique and special collaboration between four institutions doing infectious disease research:

  • Texas Biomed

  • The University of Texas at San Antonio

  • UT Health San Antonio

  • Southwest Research Institute

"Often, you'll be in competition with your colleagues in the same city who work in a similar area, and we don't do that. We really look for ways to complement each other and enhance each other's science," Turner said.

All four centers are doing different work with vaccines. For example, Turner's lab at Texas Biomed focuses on new vaccines for tuberculosis.

When it comes to measles, however, the main focus is outreach and education.

The education factor is twofold. Turner said the first part has to do with the anti-vaxxer movement.

"So much money has gone into disproving that original statement that vaccines cause autism. It's unbelievable how much money has been spent so people understand that it's not a link," she said.

WEB EXTRA: After record measles numbers, KSAT goes behind the scenes at Texas Biomed's vaccine laboratories

A CNN report released Wednesday showed the highest number of measles cases come from unvaccinated communities.

Turner's greatest concern is for those whose health issues prevent them from vaccinating or infants who are too young for the medicine.

"Those people are at risk if the community is not vaccinated," Turner said.

The second piece of outreach is for people who want vaccines but can't always get them -- "Getting to everyone in the community, including those that can't afford it or don't have access to vaccines," Turner said.

The Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio is funded by the four collaborative organizations involved.

In November, the center will hold its annual conference, joining researchers from all institutes involved. They will convene to talk about their work, sharing information and ideas with each other and also with the public.

WEB EXTRA: Your questions answered: Local doctor answers questions on measles

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.