Group hopes to convince more parents to vaccinate

Data from the state health department show a growing number of parents are opting out of vaccinating their children for non-medical reasons. The number has gone up 19-times since the option was first on the table. Wednesday immunization advocates unveiled a plan to reverse that trend.

State Representative Sarah Davis of Houston and Donna Howard of Austin crossed party lines Wednesday to show their support for immunization advocacy group The Immunization Partnership.

"Let there be no debate on the effectiveness of vaccines. They work,” said Davis.

"We can prevent disease. We can prevent death,” said Howard.

The women have filed bills to reduce what they call misinformation and junk science leading parents to opt out of vaccinating their children.

"Since 2003 we have seen a 19 fold increase in the number of children enrolled in our public schools who have received a non-medical exemption for one or all of the recommended child vaccines,” said Anna Dragsbaek, The Immunization Partnership.

Of the 25 most populous counties in Texas, state health data shows Travis County has the highest percentage of K-12 students with non-medical exemptions.

In Austin, McCallum High School has the most non-medical exemptions followed by Austin High School and Zilker Elementary.

"High contagious diseases carried by the unvaccinated can harm and kill other children,” said Davis.

Davis and Howard want to require parents to take an educational course discussing the risks and benefits of vaccinations before opting-out. They support automatic enrollment in the state's vaccination registry as opposed to an opt-in system.

Davis will ask legislators to allow teens 14 and older to legally consent to getting an HPV shot.

Executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, Jackie Schlegel, is against taking the healthcare power out of parents' hands whether it be for the HPV vaccine or otherwise.

"We do not believe that the state owns children. We believe that parents are best suited to make medical decisions for their children,” said Schlegel.

She says increasing opt out numbers don't necessarily reflect the amount of children *not being vaccinated.

"We have many families who are fully vaccinated. They don't believe they should have to report to the state their vaccination status. They want to keep those decisions personal and private,” said Schlegel.

This session she will continue to fight for that right to privacy and the right for choice.

"These are really tough decisions and they're decisions that are best left to parents, their families and their chosen medical providers. Talk with your family, do your research, talk to your provider. Let's fight in Texas to keep these rights with parents,” said Schlegel.

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