Outbreaks of preventable disease point to growth in vaccine refusal
(AUSTIN, Texas – March 5, 2019) The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of the U.S. Senate holds a hearing this morning on the essential role of vaccines in preventing disease and saving lives. The hearing follows outbreaks of measles in 10 states, including Texas. In just two months, there were 159 reported cases of measles, a disease almost entirely preventable with the MMR vaccine.
“Texas hospitals know all too well the devastating consequences of outbreaks of disease that are almost entirely preventable,” said Robert Hendler, M.D., chief medical officer at the Texas Hospital Association. “Despite the widespread availability of the flu vaccine, for example, hospitals across the state each year see their emergency departments full of children, adults and seniors with the illness, many of whom require hospitalization for serious complications.”
Texas law requires children to be given vaccines, at different ages and school levels, for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, varicella and meningococcal disease. However, Texas is among 18 states that let families opt out of vaccines for personal or moral beliefs.
Vaccine refusal among Texas’ school-age children has been increasing since 2012 and passed 1 percent for the first time last year. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly 57,000 students opted out of mandatory vaccines last school year.
“In this day and age, it is stunning that we are seeing the reemergence of diseases that just three decades ago were nearly eradicated,” said Hendler. “Vaccines have been proven safe and effective over and over again.”
The Congressional hearing also comes at a time when the Texas Legislature is considering legislation that would prohibit TDSHS from tracking data on vaccine exemptions.
New data from a survey of Republican primary voters from the Texas Public Health Coalition, of which the Texas Hospital Association is a member, show significant support for public policies that require immunization and protect the public’s health from preventable disease:
- 86 percent support current laws requiring school-age children to be immunized to attend public school.
- 68 percent oppose allowing parents of public school children to opt out of vaccine requirements for non-medical reasons.
- 67 percent support the government’s having a role in reducing the number of vaccine-preventable deaths.