Vaccination exemption rates in Texas are at an all-time high, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Local health officials tell ABC7 News that children going into kindergarten generally need about ten vaccinations.
“Measles, mumps, rubella, with the DTAP, which is diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, Hepatitis A and B, vaccines, polio, HIB, pneumococcal,” said Casie Stoughton, City of Amarillo Director of Public Health.
But for the last 16 years, parents have been able to exempt their children based on religious beliefs and reasons of conscience.
Stoughton said choosing not to vaccinate children puts them and others at risk.
“As the number of unvaccinated students goes up, that risk of susceptibility increases, as well,” said Stoughton.
When exemptions were first allowed, a little more than 7,000 people took advantage.
By 2018, the number of exemption requests had gone up to more than 76,000.
“I think people have a right to not get their kids vaccinated if they don’t want to,” said Texas State Senator Kel Seliger. “At the same time, most medical authorities find it necessary. I had my kids vaccinated and if I had to do it over again, I would do exactly the same thing.”
Seliger proposed a bill during the 2019 legislative session to make it easier for parents to look at data detailing the number of exemptions granted at individual schools, not just districts.
“We heard from, in a hearing, about a girl who had been a transplant patient. Transplant physicians want a very, very low rate of exemption because their immune system is really, really suppressed and it simply increases the odds of not catching these communicable diseases,” said Seliger.
Seliger’s bill failed to win approval.
He told ABC 7 News that the growing rate of exemption is concerning, but does not expect anything to change since there has not been an outbreak in the Lone Star State.
“You’ve got all these little kids from all different households with all different kinds of exposures getting together, and I think, statistically, it increases the chance to catch communicable diseases,” said Seliger.
However, there have been 15 confirmed cases of measles in Texas so far in 2019.
“As parents, we have to make the best decisions for our children. That’s something we’re all tasked with and it’s a balance we have to strike. It’s a very important decision, so, seeking out good scientific-based evidence is a great way to research,” said Stoughton.
According to the TDSHS, measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. Measles is so contagious that if someone has it, 90 percent of the people around that person who are not immune will become infected.