Texas lawmakers have made it clear this session: Vaccination is a major issue, and our lawmaking bodies will take action to move our state forward protecting Texans from disease. There are several bills under consideration in Austin, coming shortly after the recent outbreak of measles arising from, of all places, Disneyland.
So far, from Dec. 28 to March 13, healthcare providers have identified 145 people in seven states being sickened by a virus considered to be among the most exquisitely contagious known to medicine.
This high-profile outbreak joined a total of 23 measles outbreaks in 2014, including one that affected 383 people in Ohio, primarily among unvaccinated people in the Amish community.
Last year saw the highest number of measles cases in the last several decades, with 644 cases in 27 states. These events underscore what we pediatricians have been saying during the past 15 to 20 years: Failure to vaccinate according to the recommended schedule increases risk for preventable disease outbreaks. These outbreaks create a high cost to society, both in dollars spent to contain them and as a cost to the individuals and their families who are personally affected by them.
The most vulnerable among us (infants, people with immune defects, cancer patients) are the ones who typically are at the highest risk.
Following the publication of a flawed and now-discredited study in 1998, a wave of anti-vaccine sentiment swept across the country, buoyed by the dubious support and celebrity of characters like Jenny McCarthy.
The passionate testimonials of the beautiful and famous played better with the public than the dry science of at least 13 huge epidemiologic studies disproving a link between vaccines and autism.
Now we are seeing the price of what has been wrought. But the sentiment of the public is finally returning to a more logical place: concern for the risk of diseases we should be preventing with vaccines. Two pieces of legislation will be key to getting our state and society back on course and protected.
Lawmakers are working on a bill that protects public health by preserving vaccine data for young adults in our state vaccine registry. Under current law, a person’s vaccine record must be purged from the registry at age 19 if the registry has not received a consent document from that person to retain that information. That means this valuable record will be lost forever, while a young adult may need that information for attendance at college or for jobs.
House Bill 2171 would allow records to be retained in the registry until a person’s 26th birthday without need for documentation of new consent.
A second piece of legislation, House Bill 2474, supports the rights of parents to better and accurately discern the risk to their children from vaccine-preventable disease transmission in schools. This bill requires school districts to provide de-identified information on the number of children claiming a personal belief exemption from vaccine requirements for each school campus. This information would be available to the public, allowing parents to know if their child’s school is at higher risk for an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease.
Recent events are providing tragic reminders of the need for vaccines, reminders our society should not have needed. Restoring the public health safety net provided by vaccines is the only way to keep these events from occurring. Hopefully the hard lessons learned from the outbreaks of the last year will be enduring and we can prevent future tragedies from happening.
Jason V. Terk, M.D. is President of the Texas Pediatric Society and a guest writer for Advance ER. This story was previously published by the Fort Worth Star Telegram.