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Advocates, lawmakers hold pro-vaccination rally at Texas Capitol

By Christian Flores | April 02, 2019

Originally published in the CBS Austin

On Tuesday, advocates and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered on the steps of the Texas Capitol for a rally supporting vaccinations.

The groups Immunize Texas and The Immunization Partnership organized the rally, to push the importance of vaccinations and herd immunity, and the need for legislation that improves transparency with schools and child care centers when it comes to vaccination rates.

State Representatives Donna Howard, Sarah Davis, J.D. Sheffield, and Michelle Beckley joined the rally, echoing these sentiments.

"We've been back session after session with your help, trying to make sure we have common sense laws put in place that protect the public good and the public health," Howard said.

Last week, the House passed an amendment to a bill that would look into updating vaccination data with schools and child care facilities.

Rekha Lakshmanan is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for The Immunization Partnership, and she says it is important to keep passing vaccination-friendly laws.

"Who would have thought these days it takes political courage to support good public health practices? And who would have thought it takes political leadership to support positive immunization policies to keep our state's health security intact," Lakshmanan said.

The rally comes a day after the CDC said they are seeing the second-most measles cases since 2000, when the disease was eliminated.

So far this year, there have been 387 measles cases across 15 states.

That includes 14 cases in Texas, which is up from nine cases last year, and only one each year between 2015 and 2017.

"We all desire to live in a community where we don't have to worry about the next case of measles, or the next outbreak," Lakshmanan said.

Riki Graves was one advocate who spoke at Tuesday's rally. Her daughter, Juliana, was born with a heart condition that required a transplant, which she got shortly after birth.

Because of this, Juliana has a compromised immune system, and is not able to be vaccinated.

Graves says this is why herd immunity is so important, so children like her's can be safe in public.

"While we do everything we can to keep her safe from infections, it's the decisions of others that keep me up at night," Graves said.

Children too young to receive vaccinations are also put at risk when vaccination rates are down.

Graves and other parents at the rally say they're most concerned with declining vaccination rates in schools.

In 2004, only 2,314 students in Texas were not vaccinated for non-medical reasons. That figure jumped to 56,738 in 2018.

"Juliana is in daycare right now, and it was crucial that I find one that had vaccination rates of at least 95 percent. Less than that and her life is in danger," Graves said.

Texans For Vaccine Choice is a prominent anti-vaccination group in Texas and nationwide. They stand by their belief that parents are in the best position to make immunization decisions for their children.

"We believe in the doctor-patient relationship. We believe parents, individuals, in combination with their doctors should make informed, medical choices," said Jackie Schlegel, the Executive Director for Texans For Vaccine Choice.

But doctors say vaccines are the best way to keep children safe from dangerous infectious diseases.

"Many children die from measles," said Kelsey-Seybold Clinic's Dr. Melanie Mouzoon. "Children under the age of one are not immunized against the measles. We have vulnerable people all over, and the more people are vaccinated, the less likely we will have serious outbreaks of illness."

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