According to a report by the Texas Department of Health Services, the number of parents who chose not to immunize their children for non-medical reasons rose during the last school year.
“The more people that utilize that exemption, the higher the rate of people that are not vaccinated,” said Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, director of the Bell County Public Health District. “That means we have a larger population of people that are accessible to disease and that can spread it.”
The statistic is especially surprising because of the record-breaking measles outbreak in the U.S. earlier in 2019.
Measles has been reported in 23 states this year, including Texas. So far, there has been one reported measles case in Bell County in 2019. That was in February in western Bell County. “The child is not school aged and was too young to have been vaccinated,” according to a district news release. Family members of the child were up to date on vaccinations.
Robinson-Chadwell said that while some people simply cannot receive vaccines due to medical reasons, it is even more important for those who can get vaccinated to do so for the greater good of the community.
“If every person is vaccinated, then we have more people that have that immunity,” she said. “If that immunity is not working for some people who are vaccinated or for someone who is not eligible for a vaccine, they are more protected.”
Parents can apply for vaccine exemptions for multiple reasons. Children, who are not able to be vaccinated due to medical reasons need a dated and signed exemption statement by a licensed physician.
However, parents can also present a signed and notarized affidavit to excuse their children from vaccinations for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief.
While all 50 states grant exemptions for medical conditions, Texas is one of 17 states that permit waivers for school vaccine requirements based on their personal values.
“A tiny fraction of students are not vaccinated,” said Killeen ISD spokesman Terry Abbott. “Last year, we had 340 unvaccinated students out of about 44,500 students. That’s .008% unvaccinated last year compared to .009% this year.”
This school year, 395 out of 45,000 students are not vaccinated, according to KISD.
KISD did not have a number on file on how many of the exemptions were non-medical related cases.
Although the Killeen area has not seen a big rise in vaccine exemptions overall, the total number of parents who sought exemptions in Texas rose 14% in 2018-2019.
The number of exemptions in Texas stands at 64,176, representing a roughly 2,000% boost since 2003, when the state started letting parents decline vaccination requirements, the Associated Press reported earlier this month. In 2003-2004, there were around 3,000. There were slightly fewer than 57,000 in 2017-2018.
The report by the Texas Department of Health Services report shows that some schools have an opt-out rate of over 40%.
“It’s unsettling that at a time when measles is returning nationally because of vaccine exemptions, the exemption trend in Texas continues to get worse,” said Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease specialist. “It suggests a tone deafness.”
The increase in the number of parents choosing to not vaccinate their children appeared to be due to misinformation, some officials said.
“There seems to be a general mistrust,” Robinson-Chadwell said.
Some of which appeared to be caused by the false study of British doctor Andrew Wakefield, Robinson-Chadwell said.
“Unfortunately, people who are dishonest are spreading information that is scaring people,” she said.
Wakefield’s study, which likened the measles vaccines with autism, has already been discredited and resulted in the loss of his medical license. However, many parents are still unsure about vaccinations.
“No one is saying that vaccines are perfectly safe — you have to address that with your physician — but people shouldn’t choose not to vaccinate out of the fear that it can cause something like autism because that is simply not a valid reason,” said Robinson-Chadwell.