We at The Immunization Partnership advocated for several pieces of helpful vaccine-related legislation this year. One bill would have enabled parents to see the vaccine-exemption rates at their local schools so that they could make informed decisions about which schools were likely to be the safest and healthiest for their children.
Another would have required vaccine-hesitant parents who wanted an exemption from the state’s vaccination law to take a quick, convenient online course about immunization first.
A third would have simply changed the name of such exemptions to make them scientifically accurate, to “non-medical exemptions” rather than “exemptions of conscience.”
Yet another would have streamlined the state’s vaccine registry, reducing paperwork by having parents “opt out” if they didn’t want to be part of it—such parents are relatively few in number—rather than requiring the many parents who did want to be part of it to “opt in.” Texas is one of only four states to use the bulky, inefficient “opt in” system.
These bills would have helped combat Texas' rising exemption rate without requiring parents to vaccinate their children; the choice would have remained totally theirs, and their children's medical records would have remained as confidential as ever. And yet none of the bills became law. Only one even made it out of committee.
Our own Rekha Lakshmanan, director of advocacy and public policy, has written an op-ed about the Legislature’s failure to act in the interests of Texans’ health, focusing on a couple of the bills that were especially relevant considering the serious measles outbreak in Minnesota. Her op-ed has now been published by TribTalk:
As the last days of Texas’ regular legislative session were winding down, the number of measles cases in Minnesota was heading upward. It continues to grow: There were more than 70 cases as of last week, most of them among unvaccinated children in the state’s Somali population. More than 20 of them were so severely ill they required hospitalization.
Texas isn’t Minnesota — yet. But when it comes to vaccination, the links are too close for comfort. Non-medical exemptions in Texas — where parents opt their kids out of vaccines — have been on the rise since 2003, increasing 19-fold to close to 45,000. Worse than these raw numbers are small pockets of vaccine resistance across the state where close to 30 percent of children are unvaccinated, and maybe more. That level needs to be at more like 5 percent in order to prevent a measles outbreak like the one in Minnesota.
But bills that could prevent such a scenario in Texas died during the last legislative session. In fact, most of them never even got a hearing.
The rest of Rekha’s op-ed can be found here.
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