A Glut of Texas ‘Pro-Vax’ Bills Threaten Vaccination Exemptions

Vaccine Refusals
AP PHOTO/Toby Talbot

Pro-vaccination legislative fever is sweeping the nation faster than the recent measles and whooping cough outbreaks combined. Texas is no exception. A glut of proposed mandatory inoculation bills are moving through the 84th Legislative session. These are bills that would threaten existing vaccination exemptions.

Current Texas law requires that all school children are immunized, but parents can opt out of vaccinating their children if they have medical reasons, religious or personal objections for doing so.

However, House Bill 2006 authored by Texas state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would end exemptions filed for religious or philosophical reasons at public schools and universities. This bill is similar to California’s Senate Bill 277, presented by two Democratic state senators who also want to close a vaccination “loophole” as they see it.

Like Texas, current California law allows a parent to opt their child out of school vaccine requirements based on the state’s personal belief exemption. Thirty-two states have already barred parents from opting out of vaccinations on the exemption. Texas has been one of 20 states that allow these non-medical immunization exemptions.

HB 2006 is only one of quite a number of pro-vaccination (or “vax” for short) bills moving through the 84th Legislature. Ironically, one of the biggest critics of Villalba’s bill has been state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). He introduced own vaccination legislation, Senate Bill 538, which has sped through the Health and Human Services Committee. Schwertner heads up the committee. HB 538 is calendared on Monday, March 30, for a vote by the Texas State Senate.

Dubbed the “Ebola Bill” by the Dallas Business Journal, SB 538 would dramatically expand police authority to detain individuals suspected of exposure to communicable diseases and give state health officials the power to quarantine patients suffering from contagious infectious diseases. It would also permit law enforcement officers detain an individual under quarantine for up to 48 hours if they believe the person would violate the quarantine order.

SB 538 also mandates that the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) stockpiles equipment and clothing to protect medical workers from contracting contagious diseases in the event of a serious outbreak. It requires DSHS to contract with a company to develop a mobile app for health officials to use to monitor the spread of an infectious disease.

Grassroots watchdog group Texas Health Freedom Coalition, which lists its mission as “to preserve and protect health and freedom of choice for the citizens of Texas,” opposes SB 538 for a number of reasons including the bill’s  vague and “broad language” and its police-state ability to detain individuals that may result in “very undesirable consequences” for the rights of Texans.

Pro-vax fever has struck more Texas state officials than just the two Republicans. An epidemic of Democrats have bills too. HB 1593 from Cesar Blanco (D-Austin) would mandate that all public schools provide parents with the number of enrolled students not fully vaccinated. HB 212, authored by Toni Rose (D-Dallas) would allow minors aged 14 and up in the Texas Juvenile Justice System to consent to vaccination.

Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) wrote SB 29 and the companion HB 465 from Donna Howard (D-Austin). Both would track vaccinations in a registry, removing current opt-in consent requirement.  SB 298, from Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would mandate bacterial meningitis vaccinations for public school students. Rodney Ellis (D- Houston) offered up SB 547 which would post the number of student vaccination exemptions on school websites and on the Department of State Health Services site.

HB 1674, also from Howard, caught the attention of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the national non-profit home school advocacy organization, because it would affect all Texas children, including those educated at home. Parents would have to obtain a signed document from a physician stating he has advised the parent with the risks and benefits of immunization before their child could be exempted.

“HB 1674 would diminish parental rights by effectively requiring parents to receive what will be viewed as a “permission” from a doctor to not vaccinate their child, HSLDA noted on their website.

What gets passed, if anything, remains to be seen. Former Gov. Perry was criticized for mandating that girls had to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) in 2007. He later called that decision a mistake, KHOU-11 reported.

In February, CBS DFW reported that Gov. Abbott encouraged “all parents to have their children vaccinated” and he also supported Texas law that allows those families who choose to opt-out of the vaccinations, to do so.

The purpose of a vaccination is to prevent and ultimately eradicate a devastating infectious disease so that there is no need to vaccinate in a society.  In the United States, the last polio vaccine was given in 1979 and final one for small pox, in 1972, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Childhood diseases such as chicken pox, mumps, and Rubella have been largely erased.  Because of Tetanus shots, Americans have not feared rusty nails in years. On the other hand, illnesses like whooping cough and measles have made quite the comeback.

Breitbart California questioned whether the measles epidemic may have stemmed from last summer’s deluge of immigrants that came across the US Southern border, reintroducing or at least spreading the disease. Breitbart Texas reported CDC findings that connected recent US cases to foreign sources, although, when the measles ran rampant, it most affected the under-vaccinated, who then got blamed for the outbreak, which Breitbart News reported.

Now, mountains of vaccination legislation sit in state capitols. Besides Texas and California, Maine and Washington also seek to remove the “philosophical belief” exemption. There are at least 10 states nursing bills along that would make exemptions far harder to obtain, Reuters reported.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Oklahoma and Rhode Island have bills that would squash religious exemptions while Minnesota’s proposed legislation would impede the exemption process. Illinois and New Mexico also seek to can the exemption by requiring an official of a recognized religion to sign off on an objection.

Arizona hopes to require schools to post immunization rates on their websites and Missouri would require principals to send home letters, informing parents of non-immunized students. Vermont legislation would require “all teachers, administrators, and school staff to be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption,” according to the article.

National Vaccine Information Center President Barbara Loe Fisher told the Christian Science Monitor she sees the “danger here of having a country that is committed to forced vaccination.” The organization lobbies for exemptions and for parental choice to opt-out of those shots.

Anti-vaxxers like Fisher worry that that there is no “product liability for those vaccines, essentially indemnifying pharmaceutical companies from any adverse reactions.”

She added that mandatory vaccinations trouble Americans who consider it an assault on their civil liberties and human rights.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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