‘Civil liberties’ at center of vaccination debate in Texas


Some lawmakers say mandatory vaccination rules violate parents’ civil liberties.

The number of Texas children who are exempt from vaccines for nonmedical reasons has grown to almost 45,000.

The heart of the vaccine debate is not just about whether vaccines help or hurt children anymore. It’s about civil liberties, at least in Texas.

An episode of “VICE News Tonight” that aired Wednesday on HBO focuses on what the program considers a uniquely Texan phenomenon that came to a head during the regular legislative session that ended in May.

The news program noted that more than 20 vaccination-related pieces of legislation were filed during the session, including one that would have collected and made public data on how many children in each school weren’t immunized each year for nonmedical reasons. The bill failed largely at the hands of a group of socially conservative lawmakers called the Freedom Caucus, which opposes rules mandating vaccines.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a caucus member who was interviewed by VICE summed up the issue: “I believe that in the hierarchy of rights, that liberty is higher than safety and security.”

Cain added that he receives vaccines and so does his son.

Members of the caucus were able to successfully tack on an amendment onto a high-priority foster care bill, preventing the state from taking a child away from his or her parents because they haven’t been vaccinated. They also added an amendment to a separate bill that bars the state from vaccinating foster care children without parental consent — other than for tetanus — or until the rights of the parents are terminated and the guardianship of the child is turned over to the state.

The number of Texas schoolchildren exempted from vaccines due to personal reasons has skyrocketed from about 2,000 in 2002-03 to almost 45,000 in 2015-16. One of the state’s hotbeds for children who aren’t vaccinated is Austin, with nonvaccinated rates as high as 40 percent in some Austin private schools.

Research in 1998 that suggested a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, called the MMR, launched a worldwide vaccine scare. The work led by Andrew Wakefield, who now lives in Austin, has been discredited, and he was stripped of his medical license in England.

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