Anti-vaccination movement creating disease outbreak hotspots

Doctors in Texas are worried the anti-vaccination movement could create a widespread disease outbreak. 

In fact, the Texas Department of State Health Services said the number of children exempt from vaccines in schools rose 14 percent last year. Although, the Texas Department of State Health Services says the exemption rate is actually 12 percent instead of the 14 percent mentioned by the Texas Medical Association. 

What's even more concerning to local doctors is that exempt students tend to be grouped together. For example, 46 percent of students at the Waldorf School in Austin haven't been vaccinated.

"Measles, flu, all these different diseases, they are preventable," said Dr. Stephen Line, family medicine resident physician at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. 

Still more than 60,000 Texas parents chose not to vaccinate their children since 2003 when the state started allowing parents not to vaccinate for conscience reasons. 

"It's not all about you. It's about protecting other people too and I've been in situations, in both emergency departments and pediatric hospitals and in adult hospitals, where there's individuals that are in particular risk, and if there's people coming into that space that aren't immunized or have that disease and pass that on, it's really frustrating as a provider to say, ‘Hey, we could've prevented this,'" Line said.

A local doctor said part of the problem is that misinformation spreads faster than ever before thanks to the internet. 

"There's some patients that come in that are very skeptical about one or two vaccines and they try and explain why and typically there's not a whole lot of evidence behind it, and they have a hard time articulating why they're actually hesitant," said Line.  

Doctors said they find skepticism about vaccines has even spread to yearly flu shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates only 37 percent of adults got a flu shot in the 2017-2018 flu season. 57 percent of children did. 

"The most common thing I hear on an everyday basis, it doesn't matter what political party you're affiliated with or what state you live in, is there's a lot of people who still will refuse the flu shot," Line said. 

Doctors said they are adapting to public skepticism about vaccines by changing the way they communicate with patients. 

"As a physician, when you talk to someone about that, it's very important to be very open minded," Line said. "Ask open-ended questions, try and see where that frustration or fear comes from and try and discuss that with them at a point where they feel comfortable and that you're not pushing them away."