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.