GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) Four bills have been filed during this session of the Texas Legislature regarding new rules for student exemptions from required vaccinations.
(Photo by: Erin Zeller)
Child vaccinations have been at the center of controversy since a British research paper was published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism.
The paper has since been debunked as doctors have found no link between the vaccine and autism.
“That has been disproven repeatedly. Virtually every doctor agrees there is no link. There is no evidence that exists, but thanks to Dr. Google, and a movement called the anti-vacciners, people still believe that,” J.D. Sheffield said.
Sheffield is a physician who has practiced in Gatesville for 24 years, and is also serving his third term as the Representative of Texas House District 59.
Sheffield said the fear that vaccines cause autism has led to a widespread epidemic of anti-vacciners, which led to an outbreak of mumps in North Texas last year.
"There is no doubt vaccines work, and you have a much lower chance of these outbreaks and less chance of any epidemics," he said.
The immunization requirements for the 2016-2017 school year are listed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Students K-12 are required to receive various immunizations over the years before being entering or enrolling in a public or private school in Texas.
Under current Texas laws, parents can exempt their child from these vaccines with written note from a physician.
However, new bills filed in the legislature are aimed at educating parents and helping them make informed decisions. Rep. Sheffield explained House Bill No. 126, which would require parents who do not want their kids vaccinated to complete an “educational module,” go through training with a physician or nurse practitioner, and receive a certification of completion before they can be exempt.
“The purpose of the bill is to give parents information they may have never seen before and help them make a good decision about the health of their child,” Sheffield said.
The current law states parents can exempt their children from vaccinations if a doctor provides written indication that the vaccine would cause injury to the child, or for reasons of conscience including a religious belief.
House Bill No. 120 would change the wording of “reasons of conscience including a religious belief” to be referred as “non-medical” reasons.
Senate Bill No. 431 would afford more registered nurse practitioners the ability to educate those parents and sign the exemption notes.
Some parents believe it is their right to choose to protect their children with vaccinations, but Sheffield said their choice to not vaccinate puts the public’s health at risk.
"You are definitely more likely to contract a disease in the presence of virus or bacteria, and that's where the issue of herd immunity comes up,” he said.
Herd immunity is the idea that when one person in the group is not vaccinated, it puts the other members of the group at a higher risk. Children with immune deficiencies are at a greater disadvantage. Diabetes, leukemia, and cancer treatments can cause weaker immune systems, leaving those children with a high risk of contracting a disease, higher lethality rate, and higher chance of serious long-term consequences, Sheffield said.
He said vaccinations have proven to prevent serious illnesses, and in some cases, completely eradicate them.
“These were life-saving medical breakthroughs, truly medical breakthroughs. We've got to the point where these diseases are so little seen and heard these days that people now doubt the lethality of the diseases,” Sheffield said.
Sheffield said the reason he ran for office is to help patients. “That’s the only reason, and it’s the only reason we stay in healthcare legislation. We work to benefit the patient, not corporate medicine, not medical insurance companies, and not pharmaceutical companies.”
One local mother, Kara Wagstaff, explained her view on the importance of choice in healthcare. “I would think that personal responsibility for what you allow to be injected directly into your blood stream should matter more than any other choice, responsibility we are rewarded,” she said.
If these bills are signed in to law, they would still allow parents the option of exempting their children with a doctor’s note, but they would require parents be given all of the information and facts from a medical professional first.
“I think that the general public is healthier when a vast majority of people are doing their part to protect themselves and others by vaccinating as well as other precautionary medical care,” Wagstaff said.