Though research has disproven claims that vaccines are harmful to children, a growing number of parents in certain parts of Texas continue to choose to leave their kids unvaccinated, a choice that is causing concern among state officials.
According to the Texas State Department of Health, 44,716 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade had so-called “conscientious objections” filed at their schools this year — only 2,314 did so in 2003. And while over 98 percent of students statewide were vaccinated, the concern is that these growing numbers are happening in small clusters around the state, particularly in areas with high-income and highly educated residents, a trend that is seen nationwide. At the Austin Waldorf School, for example, where tuition is over $13,000 a year, 40 percent of students are unvaccinated.
Texas is one of 18 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their school-age children for nonmedical reasons. That means that they can pretty much write, “Nah” next to the vaccination list and move on. Most of the time, when it comes to choices parents make about how they raise their kids, that wouldn’t be anybody’s business. The problem here is that whether or not your child is vaccinated affects all of the other kids in that school and in that community. As Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Center at Houston, puts it, “If one of those kids is incubating an infectious disease and the other kids aren’t vaccinated, then it’s going to spread like wildfire,” which puts children too young to be vaccinated and those with compromised immune systems at risk.
This situation is doubly frustrating for many Texas parents because while vaccine exemption rates are available for individual private and charter schools, they’re only available per district for public schools. That means that public school parents who don’t want to send their kids to a school with a large number of unvaccinated children have no way of knowing which schools are safer for their kids than others. A petition to change that has been started by parent Jinny Suh, who has a 4-year-old and a freaking conscience. As Suh said to the Texas Tribune: “As a parent, there are a lot of things that people get very passionate about, but for some reason, in my experience, vaccinations remain an almost taboo topic besides a few passionate people.”
There is, of course, pushback to the idea of making school exemption rates public. Why? Because people are nuts. Here’s how Jackie Schlegel, the director of Texans for Vaccine Choice explains the crazy: “We believe parents should make medical decisions for their children, not the state… Informed consent and privacy are very big concerns and need to be evaluated on both sides of the coin.”
Yes, privacy is important, but your right to privacy does not outweigh my child’s right to safety. These parents don’t want the names of every parent who chooses not to vaccinate their kids (although that would be helpful when doling out birthday party invitations), they just want to know how many kids at their child’s school could possibly infect them with a deadly disease. If parents who are against vaccinations are so devoted to their cause that they are willing to risk their own child’s life, fine. But that doesn’t mean they get to decide how much of a risk to put other people’s children at.