Photo: AP

Despite the fact that statewide vaccination rates in Texas are high overall, public health officials are worried about “clusters” of unvaccinated children throughout the state.

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According to the Texas Tribune, Texas is one of the 18 states in the nation that allows for non-medical exemptions to the vaccine requirements that are mandatory for school attendance. That means that parents can opt out of vaccinating their children just because they feel like it – a decision that impacts the lives and health of other children and the population at large. Many of the parents opting out of vaccinating their children do so for dubious reasons, citing debunked medical research that links vaccination to autism, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support that claim.

The good news is that the vaccination rates in the state of Texas overall are high at 98 percent. The more troublesome news is the rise in what the Tribune refers to as “conscientious exemptions” – parents taking advantage of the law and resolutely deciding to keep their precious angels unvaccinated. In 2003, there were 2,314 conscientious exemptions. This year, there were 44,716.

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Exemption rates are only available on the individual level for public and charge schools. Public school rates are only available by district. In the light of that, this figure is even more disturbing. That increase is extremely worrisome. What’s even more interesting is the “clusters” the Texas public health officials are worried about.

As is the case across the country, areas where kids aren’t receiving vaccinations in Texas tend to be places with more highly educated and higher-income residents. The school with the highest percentage exemption rate in the state is the Austin Waldorf School, where more than 40 percent of students are unvaccinated and tuition exceeds $13,000 a year. Regents Academy, a private school in East Texas, has the second-highest exemption rate, at almost 38 percent of the school.

Swayed by the spell cast by Andrew Wakefield, director of the anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe and former gastroenterologist who authored the since-discredited research paper that linked vaccinations to autism, rich parents are taking full advantage of the law and letting their children run free with the potential to infect their peers and the population at large. Great.

Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center put it best: “If one of those kids is incubating an infectious disease and the other kids aren’t vaccinated, then it’s going to spread like wildfire.”

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Please, for the love of god, vaccinate your children.