Bills target high rates of Texas schoolchildren lacking vaccinations


Highlights

Among 25 most populous Texas counties, Travis County had the highest rate of nonmedical vaccine exemptions.

Williamson and Hays counties were among the top five.

Lawmakers have filed bills to change from opting in to opting out of vaccinations.

Among the state’s most populous counties, Travis County has the highest percentage of schoolchildren who are exempted from vaccinations for nonmedical reasons, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Immunization Partnership, an Austin-based nonprofit that promotes vaccinations, reported that in the 2015-16 school year, 3,844 kindergarten through 12th-grade students in Travis County, or roughly 2.3 percent of students, filed nonmedical exemptions to vaccinations that help prevent such diseases as polio, hepatitis, meningitis, mumps, measles and rubella. Hays and Williamson counties are third and fifth on the list, respectively.

“It is really a no-brainer,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said during a news conference Wednesday. “We can prevent diseases. We can prevent death if we have appropriate immunizations.”

READ: Personal belief waivers to vaccinations triple in Texas over six years

Statewide last school year, 44,716 students were exempted from at least one vaccine requirement for nonmedical reasons, which include moral, religious or personal beliefs. The latest number is a 19-fold increase from the 2003-04 school year, when nonmedical exemptions were first allowed. Nonmedical exemptions tend to surpass the number of medical exemptions each year.

Howard has filed bills to be considered next year that would require students to opt-out of the state’s immunization registry called ImmTrac rather than opt-in and physicians to counsel parents on vaccinations before they obtain an exemption.

Jamie Schanbaum, a 28-year-old Austin resident who attended the event Wednesday, said that if parents knew more about vaccinations, they wouldn’t avoid them. Schanbaum lost her legs and fingers to meningitis eight years ago when she was a University of Texas student, she said. She successfully pushed for a law in 2011 that requires every entering Texas college student to receive a meningococcal vaccine or opt out.

“Like most people, I didn’t know what meningitis was or what it could lead to. I watched my limbs turn from red rash to purple to black. I didn’t know if I was going to survive. If people knew about meningitis more, I don’t think there would be a question to opt-out of the vaccine,” she said.

NEWS STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX: Click here to get our Morning Headlines email

Last year, the Home School Legal Defense Association opposed a similar bill that would have required physicians to counsel parents before deciding against vaccines, saying that it would diminish the parental rights of home-schooled children. The bill, filed by Howard, didn’t get a committee hearing — the first step in the process of moving a bill forward

Some anti-vaccine organizations and parents believe vaccines cause autism, although studies don’t support that assertion. A 1998 research paper that triggered a worldwide scare over autism and vaccines has been debunked, and the journal that published the article has retracted it.

Objections to the vaccines include concerns about the safety of their ingredients, the frequency of vaccinations in small children and side effects.

Messages left with Texas Health Freedom Coalition, Texans for Vaccine Choice and Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education weren’t returned Wednesday.

Public health officials stress that while vaccines are safe, none is completely effective or free of side effects.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, also has filed four bills related to vaccinations, including one that would allow teens 14 and older to provide their own consent to obtain the vaccination against the human papillomavirus, which can cause throat cancer in men and cervical cancer in women.

“The science is 100 percent on the side of those who advocate for widespread immunizations to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases,” Davis said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Judge: Greg Kelley should be declared innocent in sex assault case
Judge: Greg Kelley should be declared innocent in sex assault case

State District Judge Donna King has ruled that the conviction of Greg Kelley, a former high school football star sent to prison on child sexual assault charges, should be overturned and that he meets the state’s legal threshold to be declared innocent, Kelley’s lawyer said. Under Texas law, a defendant meets the standard for &ldquo...
Once homeless teen receives laptop for school, needs more help
Once homeless teen receives laptop for school, needs more help

Lyric Wardlow didn’t have much of a childhood. The 19-year-old Austin woman spent most of her time caring for her mother, who had mental illness and hoarding problems. Wardlow didn’t have toys or friends to play with. She entertained herself by singing in the park. Life got much harder when Wardlow was 9 years old after she and her mother...
JUST IN: Austin police ID officer, stabbing suspect shot on Sunday
JUST IN: Austin police ID officer, stabbing suspect shot on Sunday

Austin police have identified a man suspected of stabbing a person in Northwest Austin on Sunday and the officer who shot him. Officers responded Sunday morning to a home in Northwest Hills, where they say 59-year-old Quinton Wiles stabbed another man multiple times. Police said Wiles is being charged with aggravated assault and was booked into the...
Namesake of Jack Brown Cleaners dies at 89

Jack Brown, the namesake of the ubiquitous Central Texas dry cleaning operation, has died. An obituary in Monday’s American-Statesman said Brown died Friday in the presence of his family. He was 89. A 1949 University of Texas graduate, Brown worked as a civil engineer for the Texas Highway Department before joining his father in the laundry business...
Austin among districts piloting a new way to rate schools
Austin among districts piloting a new way to rate schools

The Austin school district is one of 20 districts and charter systems chosen to participate in a pilot program to develop its own system of grading itself. The pilot was established under a new law House Bill 22, which also scaled back the A-F accountability system, unpopular among school district officials. READ: Austin district calls on lawmakers...
More Stories