Outside of election year politics, few issues generate as much intense outrage – on both sides – as that of mandatory childhood vaccination.
According to the National Institute of Health, public concern about the adverse effects of vaccines has been part of our conversation since the first smallpox inoculation by Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796.
But it is difficult to refute the data, which points to a dramatic decrease in mortality and morbidity as a result of routine childhood immunizations, which have accelerated due to laws mandating them since the 1950s. But there were always exceptions for moral, religious or personal reasons. Last year, nearly 45,000 kids in Texas were exempted for non-medical reasons.
That number is growing, which worries experts. Many warn that the state is set to become a major anti-vaccine battlefield. Among them is Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“The vaccine rates [in Texas] are as high as most other states overall, but the worry is that there are these intense pockets where children are not being vaccinated,” Hotez says. “Some of the private schools in Texas – where half the kids are not being vaccinated. … And then even in the public school systems, the numbers are approaching 5 percent of kids who are not being vaccinated.”
Hotez says a major measles outbreak could strike Texas as soon as winter or spring 2018 – and could affect the Austin area in particular.
“The reason we get concerned about that is because once those exemption rates are going above 5 percent, we can predict that we can start seeing measles outbreaks,” Hotez says. “Of all the diseases that we vaccinate against, we worry about measles the most because it’s the most highly transmissible of all the infectious agents. We know that if, for instance, a single kid gets measles, on average up to 20 other kids will get infected.”
When it comes to the argument for mandatory vaccinations without exceptions, Hotez says he doesn’t fully agree. He says there are legitimate medical exemptions. For example, if a child is known to be immunocompromised or undergoing cancer therapy, they cannot receive certain live vaccines.
“But I would absolutely eliminate all the non-medical exemptions,” Hotez says. “That is what happened in California. Unfortunately, in California, they waited until there were horrific measles outbreaks. … I wanted to prevent that here in Texas. And that’s why I’ve been out there in this last year, because we are at that point where we are going to start seeing measles epidemics and I am worried that children will be severely neurologically damaged or even die because of measles a consequence of this.”
Post by Nadia Hamdan.