AUSTIN, Texas — Most Texas voters support required childhood vaccinations for kids, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Thursday.
Overall, 78 percent of voters think vaccinations for infections such as measles, mumps and whooping cough should be required. In breaking down the 78 percent of voters who support required vaccinations, 86 percent of them are Democrats, 73 percent are Republicans and 67 percent are Independent voters. However, 14 percent believe say they shouldn’t be required and eight percent say they don’t know.
"In general, if you protect most or almost all of a population, it's very hard for a disease to get into that community," Coburn Allen, associate professor with the Department of Pediatrics at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, said.
"We are seeing a resurgence of some preventable diseases," said Doris Robitaille, a family physician in Austin.
This Wednesday, DSHS said there were now 10 measles cases in the state this year, which is one more than what the state saw in all of 2018. The department said the 10th case is in an adult traveler visiting Guadalupe County from the Philippines, where there is an ongoing measles outbreak.
Robitaille said reporting and tracking every case of infectious diseases and exemptions is critical.
"Every percentage counts," Robitaille said. "We're kind of playing a roulette game in that we only know this information by monitoring and keeping the data and making the public and physicians aware of outbreaks and diseases."
“The best way to prevent getting sick is to be immunized with two doses of the measles vaccine,” a release from DSHS said. “DSHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children receive one dose at 12 to 15 months of age and another at 4 to 6 years. Children too young to be vaccinated or who have only had one dose of vaccine are more likely to get infected and more likely to have severe complications if they do get sick, so immunization is especially important for adults and older children who are around infants and toddlers. Parents of children who have not been immunized, because they’re too young or for any other reason, may want to discuss options for protecting their child with their health care provider.”
Allen, who specializes in infectious diseases and is an emergency physician at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, said the incubation period for some infectious diseases like measles last a long time and people sometimes have no idea they're carrying it.
"There are enough people that aren't vaccinated in America that when they travel or someone travels to here with measles, there are enough unprotected people that allows for the epidemic to start here in the United States," he said.
The results of this latest poll isn’t much different from the last time the University of Texas/Texas Tribune conducted this survey. In 2015, 75 percent of voters said the government should require parents to have their kids vaccinated and 14 percent said it shouldn’t.
"The context has really changed this time," Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
"We were not in the midst of a public health crisis and it does seem like we are at this point and that is going to change the way people interpret public opinion," he continued.
Henson said it's hard to know how the issue will play out in the legislature.
"In the past, the people that have been most strongly in favor providing some sort of a religious or personal exemption for vaccines have been in the majority party and have been relatively successful in making this an issue of individual conscience rather than public health," he said. "Now that we do seem to be on the edge or in the midst of a public health crisis, I do think that discussion is going to change and so legislation limiting these exemptions like we've seen in some other states, like California, will stand a better chance in the legislature or at least get much more of a hearing."
Rebecca Hardy, director of state policy for the group Texans for Vaccine Choice, said the organization is advocating for lawmakers to support parents having more of an ability to make their own decisions for their children.
"My greatest fear is that I will wake up in a state that has a long history of honoring parental rights and have those rights no longer be available to those that want to exercise them," she said.
Hardy said members of her group make various decisions based on what they feel is best for their child.
"We support parents no matter what schedule they choose," she said. "We have members that fully vaccinate, that selectively vaccinate — that may be a pick and choose, delay or maybe forego altogether."
Allen said it's rare doctors don't choose vaccinations for children due to health concerns and says it's usually a one in every 1,000 children where that happens.
"We don't want to vaccinate people when they don't have the ability to, one, make a nice immune response or two, you might actually make them sicker because they don't have an immune system to help them develop the antibodies they want, but that's rare."
A bill filed in the in the Texas Legislature would allow for vaccine exemption forms to be downloaded online and available in all public schools. It would also no longer have the state health department maintain a record of the total number of exemptions.
"If this is truly an anonymous system, we just put that assurance that they aren't going to be able ot track anybody that does indeed download the form," Hardy said.
But Robitaille said that type of data is needed to be proactive in providing care.
"They send us information that allows me to be more aware that if a patient say, right now, comes in with high fever, and a cough, that could be many things," she said. "But if they have conjunctivitis — red eyes — and later develop a rash, I'm aware that there's a measles situation going on now and so I can be there and more prepared to take care of my patients in that situation."
A report released by the Department of State Health Services last year showed 4,000 more families filed chose not to vaccinate their school children in 2018 than in 2017.
“Overall, Texas schools reported high rates of coverage for each vaccine,” health officials from DSHS wrote. “Compared to the 2016-17 school year, however, kindergarten students have slightly lower coverage as reports of conscientious exemptions, provisional enrollment, and delinquencies all increased slightly in 2017-18.”
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