The Dallas Morning News

Bills Offer Shot of Hope

Parents have right to school vaccinatio­n rates


It’s troubling enough that Texas still allows parents to opt out of vaccinatin­g their school-age children with alarming ease. Almost as stunning is how hard it is for parents to get informatio­n on the number of kids claiming exemptions at individual schools, so they can make smart decisions about their risk of exposure.

The way Texas releases records — at the district level instead of the school level — keeps most parents in the dark until it’s too late. Parents have to file tedious and time-consuming open records requests to get school rates.

Meanwhile, clusters of unvaccinat­ed children can form at a school without being reflected in the data or released to the public.

This is leading to the emergence of childhood diseases that had all but disappeare­d because of advances in medicine and kids on vaccinatio­n schedules. In December, a mumps outbreak in Johnson County infected almost 30 people. Dallas County had a mumps outbreak last month, with nearly 60 cases.

That does no one any good. And it’s a danger to the health of all of us.

We applaud two bills — Senate Bill 1010 from Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and House Bill 2249 from Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville — that aim to fix this and require the government to release school immunizati­on rates.

Consider that nearly 45,000 Texas students in grades K-12 claimed nonmedical exemptions in 2016. That’s a 1,700 percent increase from 2004. Stunningly, parents can opt out with little more than a name, age and an address.

This has been allowed since vaccinatio­n skeptics got Texas law changed in 2003 to allow exemptions for philosophi­cal reasons. Fearful and misinforme­d parents continue to cite discredite­d research linking vaccines to autism.

It’s mind-boggling that Texas allows this to continue. A bill by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, to curb exemptions for nonmedical reasons died during the last session.

At the very least, lawmakers should now make sure parents are armed with exemption rates at their schools.

“Parents have a right not to get their kids vaccinated, but the kids don’t have an individual right to expose other kids whose parents don’t want to assume that level of risk,” Seliger told The Dallas Morning News. He’s right. This informatio­n should be as easy to get as STAAR or SAT scores, and it could save kids’ lives.

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