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Thursday January 5, 2017

Could Texas be the epicenter of the next major disease outbreak? These experts think so.

Christmas

Health experts are worried about Texas, and for good reason.

There are growing signs that the state might become the epicenter of a major disease outbreak due to a small, but growing number of parents filing for non-medical exemptions so that their children can attend school without the required vaccinations.

A thorough examination of the situation in Science magazine explains how Texas could serve as a problematic example for the nation. All states allow children to attend school without vaccinations when there is a medical reason for doing so — such as a compromised immune system from chemotherapy — but Texas is the most populous among the minority of states that also allow exemptions based solely on the parents' personal beliefs.

While these families represent only a tiny fraction of Texans — less than one percent of students K-12 had a non-medical exemption on file in 2016 — passions in this very small but vocal minority run so high that even legislation that solely addresses better public information regarding vaccination rates faces harsh opposition from politically active vaccine opponents.

As more children go unvaccinated, the medically vulnerable, like those with weakened immune systems, are at increased danger of catching a potentally serious illness. That's why The Immunization Partnership has advocated for a law that would allow parents to view the exemption and vaccination rates at individual schools, so that they could pick a school where their children would be safest. It is important to note that this legislation does not remove a parent’s right to choose to vaccinate or not. Parents could still seek a non-medical exemption for their kids, and their information would remain confidential, yet, as the Science story shows, even this mild proposal faces a fight. 

Health experts worry that Texas is headed to a disease outbreak if the trend continues. That's what it took for California — which used to be the most populous state to allow philosophical objections, until a measles outbreak sickened more than 100 people — to change its mind about vaccinations.

Read more about the ramifications for public health in the Science story.

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