Parents should always have easy access to crucial information that affects their children’s health. That includes the ability to learn which schools appear to have the highest rates of vaccinated children, and which schools might have dangerously low vaccination rates.
But never has the right to such information been more important than this year, when measles cases have been popping up in Texas, along with outbreaks in several areas around the nation. Measles is an extremely contagious disease – 90 percent of those exposed to it will fall sick if they haven’t been vaccinated – and a dangerous one as well, that can cause encephalitis, deafness and even death.
If the Parents Right to Know bill passes the Texas Legislature this year, it will not change parents’ rights to exempt their children from vaccination for non-medical reasons. What it will do is allow parents who are concerned about school safety to easily find out how many students at their children’s schools have such exemptions, so that they can make decisions to protect their children.
Overall, vaccination rates in Texas for most childhood immunizations are high, but those average number mask pockets where too few children are vaccinated to protect the population as a whole. Four Texas cities: -- Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and Plano – were listed in a 2018 study as hot spots of low vaccination.
The measles vaccine is extremely effective. Of those who have received the recommended doses, 97 percent are protected from measles. So why worry?
Three good reasons:
- Some children cannot be vaccinated because of compromised immune systems from serious medical conditions, such as being treated by chemotherapy for cancer. These children are already medically fragile and could be made seriously ill if infected.
- As effective as the vaccine is, 3 percent of those vaccinated do not derive immunity from it. That’s a very small number, but when multiplied across a large population, the number can become significant. At a school with 2,000 children, that adds up to about 60 students who could become sickened if exposed to measles, even if everyone at the school were vaccinated. Imagine that number multiplied across the many places in a large city where children gather.
- Babies don’t usually receive their first dose until they reach the age of 1 year old. They can be exposed to measles through an older sibling who touches an infected classmate or contaminated surface.
Schools already collect the information about how many parents have filed non-medical exemptions, so it’s not as though they have to go through onerous new steps. It’s just that parents who want that crucial information now have to go through a rigmarole to obtain this basic information. SB 329, sponsored by Senator Kel Seliger, and HB 3551y by Representative J.D. Sheffield would make the information readily available to them.
Despite concerns among some parents, this legislation would in no way infringe on their families’ privacy. The numbers would simply be available as totals for a given school. No specific information about which students might be unvaccinated would be allowed.
The purpose of SB 329/HB 3551 is to require greater government transparency with the numbers it already is collecting. That’s something all parents can support.