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Texas eyes vaccinations as more and more children file exemptions

(Reuters)

Texas may be the epicenter for the nation’s next big battle about stricter requirements for vaccinations as the rates of the schoolchildren who refuse shots for non-medical reasons to climb into America’s second largest state.

The number of Texas kindergarten through 12th grade students who report that the submit to conscientious objection exemption for at least one immunization last school year increased 19 times since 2003 — but that is still less than 1 percent of the enrolled students, according to the Immunization nership, a pro-vaccination Texas non-profit. Texas requires parents to approve of vaccinations, rather than mandatory shots and have a family, opt out if they object to them.

Some lawmakers of the state of Texas said Wednesday that they want to create a system where students who oppose vaccinations would have to opt-out of otherwise standard vaccinations and can only do that after watching a video on the medical effectiveness of vaccines.

The most common vaccinations protect against measles, mumps and rubella, or German measles, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and hepatitis A and B.

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Texas and 17 other states allow philosophical exemptions from vaccines. California used to let students to forgo vaccinations for similar reasons — only to approve a number of the strictest vaccine requirements last year. That law eliminated religious and personal beliefs as reasons for non-participation of the mandatory vaccinations.

The small group of Texas legislators who want to make changes is not going to go that far if the GOP-controlled Legislature goes back into session Jan. 10.

“The fact is that people have the choice to not immunize, but we need the herd effect,” Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who has filed an immunization “opt-in” bill, told reporters Wednesday. “We have a significant number to be immunized to not only protect themselves, but to the protection of the larger community.”

Previous efforts to improve immunization rates in Texas are usually hampered by opposition from conservative legislators who are vaccinations skeptics, as well as a political group Texans for Vaccine Choice. They point to the discredited research that vaccines for the health problems, including autism.

Texans for Vaccine Choice did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The preparations for a legislative collide in the midst of a mumps outbreak south of Fort Worth, where immunization refusal rates in the school districts are higher than the state average.

Neighboring Arkansas has reported nearly 1,900 confirmed or suspect cases of mumps this year, although many of those involved are children who received vaccines. That outbreak has yet located in an area where the opt-out rates are higher than those in other parts of Arkansas, according to the state of the Ministry of Health. Such as Texas, Arkansas, parents can claim medical, religious or philosophical exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

In Texas, nearly 45,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students reported submitting conscientious exemptions from vaccinations last school year, which represents an increase of 0.84 percent of the number of students enrolled by schools in an annual survey, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. But only if the 2008 academic year, only about 12,600 of public school students reported submitting conscientious exemptions from immunizations, or 0.28 percent of that year’s reported enrollment total.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, a suburb of Houston Republican who is the sponsor of a proposal to mandate an online course for Texans who have non-medical exemptions to school immunizations, said that “for some reason, there is a growing movement afoot to question the science and the effectiveness of vaccines.”

“Discredited research offered by sources discredit has yet gained traction,” Davis said Wednesday. “It has doubts in the parents and uncertainty within the audience. We are here because it is time to fight back.”

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