Immunize Texas hopes to increase transparency of vaccination exemptions in public school

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services 2 percent of students in Austin ISD filed conscientious exemptions in the 2015-2016 school year. That's more than twice the statewide rate.

Currently school districts report the number of vaccination exemptions to the health department, but individual public schools do not. Immunize Texas wants to change that this legislative session to give parents more information about their child's safety.

“The major importance with vaccinations is to maintain a healthy population,” said Dr. Dagoberto Balderas with Lewis Family Medicine. 

Since Texas started allowing parents to exempt their children from immunizations in 2003, the number of students with exemptions climbed from 3,000 to more than 45,000.

“We seem to think that because we are in the United States, that we are in Austin, most of our children will be protected because maybe the other children will be vaccinated, but, as we're seeing less children becoming vaccinated, now we have increased risk,” Balderas said. 

Students in Texas are required to receive 10 vaccinations before they attend school. When parents do not want to vaccinate a child, they must file a conscientious exemption form with the child's school. Some do so for reasons including religion, allergies or a belief that vaccines could lead to autism.

“Those reasons have been debunked, so barring a known allergy to certain vaccination; there really are no real reasons why we should withhold vaccination from our children,” said Balderas. 

Private schools in Texas tend to have higher exemption rates than public schools. In fact, 40 percent of students at the Austin Waldorf School had some form of exemption last year.

“As we're starting to see more and more children become unvaccinated, we will see a surge in illnesses spreading through our communities,” Balderas said.

The data at public schools in Texas is not broken down by school like it is for private or charter schools. That's something Immunize Texas and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association would like to change. That's why they posted a petition online

“Right now, it's reported by district, but they wanted to have it reported by school so parents would know how many kids were immunized and how many kids were not,” said Anita Jiles with the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

That way parents would be able to make decisions about where their child attends school based on the potential health risks they could face.

“The schools are already collecting the data. The nurses collect the data when kids register, so it's really just another step and giving parents a little more information,” Jiles said.

While Balderas hopes one day the number of exemptions will decrease, he says transparency at the state level could be a useful tool for concerned parents.

“I know personally, if I knew that my daughter was going to go to a school with a high rate of unvaccinated children, I would certainly reconsider putting her in a different school,” he said.             

After a bill was filed last legislative session to put a stop to a parent's ability to exempt children from vaccines for conscientious reasons, political action committee Texas Parents for Vaccine Choice formed. FOX 7 tried to contact them for comment on this story, but did not get a response by news time.