TIP In The News


OP ED: Solving Texas' Vaccination Problem

By Jinny Suh | February 19, 2016

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle

There are certain things we expect from our fellow citizens to maintain a safe and well-organized society: That people don't drive drunk; that grocery stores won't sell us tainted food; and that we don't encounter violence when we leave our homes.

Texas ranked second to last in the nation in vaccination rates of young children last year. This is unacceptable - both for those children and the people around them - and leaves our community vulnerable to outbreaks of potentially dangerous diseases like measles.

Just as we have laws against drunk driving, we need laws against needlessly depriving kids of immunizations. Science-based vaccine legislation - like school requirements and strict limits to nonmedical exemptions from those requirements - will drive vaccination rates up and protect those who can't protect themselves.

Indeed, they already have.

Before Texas instituted requirements for middle-schoolers to get the meningococcal vaccine, fewer than half of adolescents in the state had been vaccinated. After the mandate, more than 88 percent were vaccinated - well above the U.S. government's "Healthy People" 2020 objective. Following the mandate, Texas saw a more than 60 percent drop in the number of meningococcal disease cases. Vaccines work. And so does science-based legislation.

While almost all of us know this (and benefit from it), the number of voices actively engaged in bringing about these policies are disproportionately low. This past legislative session, a bill was proposed that would have allowed parents to easily find out the vaccine exemption rate at their children's school campuses - information that is especially critical to parents with immune-compromised kids who can't be vaccinated themselves. The morning the bill was to be heard in committee, 50 constituents called their legislator in opposition. The number who called in favor? Zero.

This wasn't because no one supported the measure - many of us support such legislation. It's common sense and would go a long way for parents to have more information that could better help them protect their children. We simply didn't voice our support.

In order to enact and protect these effective policies, we need the majority of Texans who trust the science and benefit from the protections afforded to them by these laws to speak up. Remaining silent - even when you and your family are up to date on your shots - makes it easier for those who oppose vaccines to influence legislators, preventing laws that save lives.

I ask you: How can our voices be heard in the Texas Legislature if we fail to raise them in the first place?

Politicians respond to voters. They might know that immunization legislation is right and necessary, but if their constituents tell them to vote against it, that's what they'll do. For those who oppose vaccination, they are guided by fear, and that fear drives passion. We need to step up our passion and speak up for science - and for our children.

It's easy to think that you can't make an impact, but politicians are listening. They simply can't read your mind, and they won't interpret your silence.

If you are part of the majority that recognizes the safety and importance of immunizations, get involved in the pro-vaccine movement today. Call or write your elected officials in the Legislature and ask them to support science-based immunization legislation. Texans should protect Texans.

 

Suh heads Immunize Texas, a branch of The Immunization Partnership, which engages individuals, families and community members to speak out in support of vaccines and science-based immunization policies.

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