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Texas vaccination laws harm at-risk communities

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” has been around forever, but in reality, it only takes a herd — herd immunity.

Since January 2019, 159 cases of measles have been confirmed across 10 states — of those, eight were in Texas. Measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is spread by contact with an infected person through coughing or sneezing. The Texas Department of Health Services reported measles is so contagious that an individual who is infected will spread it to 90 percent of the people they come into contact with who are not already immune. 

According to the Oxford Vaccine Group, to achieve herd immunity for measles, 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated. So how does herd immunity work? Every day we come in contact with millions of germs, and if enough people get sick from a certain germ (such as measles, chickenpox, meningitis, etc.) an outbreak can occur. To prevent an outbreak, enough people in the community must be vaccinated. Herd immunity not only protects individuals who can’t receive vaccinations, but also helps eradicate disease in the community.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children get the first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months, and a booster at four to six years. After two doses, the MMR vaccine is 97 percent effective and protects against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox).

However, most children infected with measles are too young to receive the vaccine or have only had the first dose. In some cases, children who are immunocompromised or allergic to additives used in vaccines are unable to receive them. For this reason, herd immunity is necessary.

However, maintaining herd immunity within a community is becoming more difficult with the growing anti-vaccination movement. In 2013, Texas passed a law allowing parents to exempt their children from vaccinations for personal or religious beliefs. Texas reported that around 57,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade opted out of vaccinations in 2017. According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, that is an increase of more than 4,000 students from the previous year.

Unfortunately, Rep. Matt Krause, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, filed a bill in the Texas legislature earlier this month that would make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. If the bill passes, the number of students opting out of vaccines is expected to rise rapidly — making herd immunity harder to maintain and putting those who can’t receive vaccines for medical reasons at a higher risk.

Texas needs tougher vaccination laws that limit exemptions to medical reasons, not laws that make it easier to opt out. If legislators continue to cater to the anti-vaccination movement, the community will suffer the consequences in the shape of tombstones.

Category: Opinion