What could possibly go wrong? Across Texas, growing clusters of unvaccinated children
Anna Casey writes in the Texas Tribune:
Georgia Moore was diagnosed with leukemia the day after her 10th birthday. The fourth-grader began an intense chemotherapy regimen, which left her immune system vulnerable and kept her from attending her small, private Montessori school in Austin.
But her younger sister Ivy was in kindergarten at the same school, where a handful of families opted out of vaccinating their children. That meant 6-year-old Ivy might bring home germs that could pose a risk to Georgia.
“She would go to school, come home and immediately we’d put clothes in the washer to keep a healthy environment,” the girls’ mother, Courtney Moore, said of the family’s after-school routine.
The Moores’ vigilance paid off. Georgia, now 16, had very few hospitalizations during the course of her treatment and is now cancer-free and five years out of treatment. But Georgia’s battle against cancer made Courtney Moore a vocal advocate for immunizations in Texas — where an increasing number of parents are opting against vaccinating their children, and data about the number of unvaccinated kids in individual public schools is not available.
Texas is one of 18 states that allow non-medical exemptions to the vaccines required for school attendance. California had a similar law allowing non-medical exemptions, until last year when it enacted a law that has one of the strictest requirements in the country after a 2014 outbreak of measles traced to the Disneyland theme park infected more than 100 people around the country.
Many of the parents opting out of the immunizations, which are widely recommended by doctors, say they fear a link between the vaccines and health problems such as autism. But studies that they cite have been widely debunked by public health officials.
“Year after year we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of students with a conscientious exemption from vaccination in Texas,” said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But overall, the numbers are small.”
Even though statewide levels of vaccinations remain high, at over 98 percent, what concerns public health officials are the growing clusters of geographic areas with high rates of unvaccinated children. Texas went from just 2,314 “conscientious exemptions” in 2003 to 44,716 this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. [Herd vulnerability – LG]