Those annual state test scores. Graduation rates. The daily lunch menu. Texas parents have the right to all kinds of information about their children’s schools. Yet somehow the public transparency ends when it comes to their children’s health. No one gives them any information about how many of the students at their school are vaccinated. There’s nowhere to go look it up.
That’s why one of the most important proposals before the Texas Legislature this year is the subject of companion bills HB 2249 authored by Representative J.D. Sheffield and SB 1010 by Senator Kel Seliger. It would require annual reporting of these figures for each school campus.
Here are six key facts to help you understand how these two bills, known as the Parents’ Right to know bills, would work and why this is so important:
Schools already gather data about how many of their students are vaccinated and how many have some kind of exemption from vaccination. The information is ultimately provided to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which reports the vaccination rates for school districts. In other words, schools wouldn’t have to gather any more information than they already do; the legislation merely requires more government transparency around those numbers by having the state report the data for each school.
Parents have no need to worry about the confidentiality of their children’s records. All that would be reported are the numbers of exemptions at each school; there would be no names or any other information that could be used to identify students either way.
The legislationin no way infringes on parents’ right to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children. It would simply clarify what the vaccination rate is at their children’s schools.
Even though the overall vaccination rate for a school district might be high, there often are pockets of high exemption rates. A disease outbreak is more likely to occur at schools where so few students are immunized that “herd immunity” is weakened. The term refers to the way in which high vaccination rates protect children who haven’t been vaccinated; when almost all of the children have immunity, a disease is much less likely to appear at the school and infect children who lack immunity.
This is especially important for the parents of medically fragile children. Some children have conditions that affect their immunity, such as illnesses that require chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs. These children cannot be safely vaccinated, and at the same time, they are less able to fight off illness when they are infected. They depend on herd immunity for their health or even their lives. Their parents should be able to look for schools where vaccination rates are high, for their children’s protection.
Why does this matter? In Texas, the number of non-medical exemptions from vaccination has been increasing, further weakening herd immunity. In 2003, there were only 2,314 non-medical exemptions; in 2015-16, that number rose to 44,176.
Want to get involved in your right to government transparency? Contact Immunize Texas to find out how.
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