The Fiery Vaccination Debate Ignites Again in the Texas Legislature

“You know the U.S. is very good at exporting culture. We export Hollywood movies. We can export anti-vaccine sentiments.”

By Lauren SilvermanJanuary 16, 2017 9:30 am, , ,

From KERA News

State Rep. Jason Villalba has two kids in Dallas public schools. They’re both vaccinated against highly contagious diseases like mumps and measles. A few years ago he learned that not all their classmates were.

“My wife came home from school after registration and she mentioned to me that under Texas law a student could opt out of the protocols for immunization merely by saying they don’t want to take immunizations,” he says. “That was surprising to me.”

The Republican learned that the state Legislature added in this exemption, often called a “conscientious” or “philosophical” exemption, in 2013.

“Sure enough it coincided with this paper by Andrew Wakefield that was later discredited that said that immunizations could cause autism,” Villalba says. “Of course that study was widely discredited, his license was removed to practice medicine in the UK and now he lives in Austin.”

Villalba wrote a bill in 2015 that would have eliminated the conscientious objection clause; he would have kept the medical and religious exemptions available.

He knew touching a hot topic like vaccines would be contentious, but he had no idea a grassroots group would try and oust him in the next election.

The Fight

After Villalba proposed his bill to narrow vaccination exemptions a grassroots organization called Texans for Vaccine Choice organized to prevent him from winning re-election.

“It got ugly at times, heated at times,” he says.

Jackie Schlegel, who started Texans for Vaccine Choice, hadn’t been involved in politics before.

“We got heavily involved at the Capitol, in his primary race. We knocked on over 10,000 doors for his challenger,” she says.

Texans for Vaccine Choice is now a political action committee — more than 10,000 people have liked its Facebook page.

“We are not here to tell parents to or to not vaccinate. We are simply here to defend the rights of parents to make those decisions,” Schlegel says.

And although Villalba won re-election last fall, he gave up on his legislation.

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