The risk of opting out

It's a growing trend that worries doctors, educators and public health officials — parents declining to vaccinate their children.

Vaccine refusal rates have been on the rise in Texas. The number of unvaccinated children has reached an alarming 45,000-plus, putting them — and others around them — at risk for several serious diseases, including diphtheria and measles, experts warn.

And the trend line is getting steeper.

“We have seen a nearly 20-fold increase in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Dr. Ryan Van Ramshorst, a UT Health San Antonio pediatrician. “It’s one of the public health concerns that I am most worried about.”

Most of the parents who have opted out of the vaccinations required to send a child to school in Texas do so for “reasons of conscience,” but some children have medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccines.

Those children, Dr. Van Ramshorst said, are in greater danger of being infected if they spend time with unvaccinated children, and they can become dangerously ill.

“We all should be concerned that there are a rising number of children who are not receiving the vaccines that are recommended,” Dr. Van Ramshorst said. “My medically fragile patients can get very, very sick, even from chicken pox.”

A study published in PLOS Medicine listed Harris, Tarrant, Collin and Travis counties among the top 15 counties in the United States in terms of the number of kindergarten-age children whose parents have claimed nonmedical exemptions.

The overall state immunization rate is still above 97 percent, which is better than the 95 percent rate that provides "herd immunity" for a population by limiting disease transmission. But some areas of Texas, including smaller population pockets like private schools, have much higher percentages of nonmedical exemptions.

Here is more information about state requirements for immunizing children.

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