More Texas parents said “no” to vaccinating their children in the 2015-2016 school year based on reasons of conscience, according to the Annual Report of Immunization Status from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
This reflected a nearly nine percent increase in K-12 conscientious exemptions from school year 2014-2015 (40,997 students) to 2015-2016 (44,716 students). However, the overall percentage of unvaccinated Texas school children remained minuscule — 0.84 percent of the estimated 5.5 million students enrolled in public, charter, and private schools.
In 2015-2016, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) accounted for 5.3 million K-12 children attending public and charter schools while the Texas Private Schools Association noted private school enrollment at 250,000. Breitbart Texas reported the number of school children without childhood vaccines was 2,314 in the 2003-2004 school year. The Houston Chronicle underscored these latest 2015-2016 figures represent a 19-fold increase since 2003, the first year Texas law permitted parents to opt-out of state immunizations for medical, religious, or personal beliefs.
Some larger Texas school districts reflected higher rates of conscientious exemptions than the state’s 0.84 percent — such as the Austin Independent School District in central Texas with 2.02 percent (or 1,582) student conscientious exemptions. Frisco ISD in North Texas had 2.05 percent (or 1,077) students unvaccinated.
Current Texas law requires all school children get immunized but parents can opt-out of vaccinating their children for personal beliefs. Until July, 20 states allowed for philosophical exemptions. Legislation passed in Vermont repealed child vaccine exemptions for children in the state’s public and private schools. California’s SB 277 eliminated the option for parents to decline vaccinations as a condition of enrollment in public and private schools, Breitbart California reported. The Golden State mandate followed a measles outbreak that originated from an unknown “patient zero” at Disneyland in December 2014.
Texas remains one of now 18 states that allow for exemptions based on reasons of conscience, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2015, Breitbart Texas reported on the growing trend of Texans not immunizing their children against early childhood diseases. While some families refuse because of a child’s compromised immune system or allergic reactions to egg additives in vaccine, the broader majority do not vaccinate based on philosophical reasons. All states grant exemptions for medical reasons.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, said the vaccination rates in Texas among preschool-aged children rank 48th in nation, also according to the Chronicle report. “The bottom line that is that children in the state of Texas are now at great risk for measles and other killer childhood infections,” Hotez said. “This is happening because parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids and are doing so because of erroneous beliefs.”
The anti-vaccination debate first kicked up when British researcher, Andrew Wakefield, linked the childhood Mumps, Measles,and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism spectrum-like symptoms in the late 1990’s, although he was later discredited for faking data in an “elaborate fraud,” Breitbart News reported.
Last year, the Austin Regional Clinic, a major professional medical group in central Texas, announced they would no longer retain patients or accept new ones who lack routine childhood vaccinations because of parents and/or guardians who oppose inoculation for personal, philosophical, or religious reasons.
In a recent letter from the DSHS to school administrators, public health officials advised: “Immunizations are an important way to ensure the health and well-being of your students, their families, and your community.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain vaccines are safe and credit them with taming whooping cough, polio, measles, rubella, diphtheria, smallpox, yellow fever, and tetanus in the population.
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