More than 900 LISD students not vaccinated, State law permits vaccination exemptions; Texas lawmaker hopes to change that

shotBy CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News

Since the Texas Legislature expanded a law in 2003 to allow parents to exempt their children from vaccination requirements due to philosophical or personal objections, hundreds of Leander ISD parents have done just that and exempted their children from mandated vaccinations.

Now, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that at least 121 people from 17 states have contracted measles in the worst outbreak in recent memory, LISD officials are concerned that unvaccinated children create an avoidable health risk.

“There is a growing concern within the medical community and from the two county health departments that work with LISD,” said Karla Barth, assistant director of risk management and district nurse for Leander ISD. “School districts are charged with following the law and we will continue to monitor the situation and take guidance from our local health departments.”

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 916 Leander ISD students — 2.59 percent of the district’s overall enrollment — were exempted from vaccination requirements for non-medical reasons during the 2013-14 school year.

Immunization exemption rates in local schools

Campus Exemptions Total Enrollment %
Grandview Hills Elem. 28 463 6
River Place Elem. 35 796 4.4
Steiner Ranch Elem. 23 620 3.5
Laura Bush Elem. 27 854 3.1
River Ridge Elem. 23 806 2.8
Canyon Ridge MS 44 1270 3.4
Four Points MS 23 678 3.4
Vandegrift HS 43 2063 2

Statewide, more than 38,000 students — about 0.75 percent of the state’s overall school-age population — had non-medical exemptions to school immunization laws in the 2013-14 school year, according to DSHS data. That figure, which includes students at both public and accredited private schools, has soared from just under 3,000 — or 0.09 percent — in 2004.

Leander ISD does not disclose the number of students exempted due to medical reasons, students who Barth said would be particularly vulnerable in the event of an outbreak.

“There are students and teachers in the district who, because of personal or family health issues, cannot be immunized and who have medical exemptions for immunizations,” Barth said. “The herd immunity that is created when those who are able to be immunized receive those immunizations on a timely basis protects those who cannot receive immunizations. This herd immunity also protects infants who are too young to receive immunizations and who may suffer the most when vaccine-preventable illnesses spread.”

Barth said there have not been any reported cases of measles in LISD. She said the district follows the Texas Minimum State Vaccine Requirements that are mandated by Texas Administrative Code, Title 25, Section 97.61 to 97.72.

As a part of their duties, school clinic staff provides information to parents upon request.

“We do work with the local health departments and physicians to refer parents and students for immunization needs,” Barth said.

In Austin ISD, 1,364 students — 1.6 percent of the district — received exemptions for non-medical reasons during the 2013-14 school year. Calvert ISD, a small district in Robertson County, had the highest percentage of exempted students in the state with 124 students — 73.4 percent of the district.

State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) plans to propose legislation that would curtail some of the voluntary exemptions to the state’s mandatory vaccination program.  (House Photography)

State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) plans to propose legislation that would curtail some of the voluntary exemptions to the state’s mandatory vaccination program. (House Photography)


The Texas Tribune reports that a Texas Republican is taking aim at the state provision that allows parents with personal or religious objections to vaccines to opt their children out of school immunization requirements.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said Friday he will soon propose legislation to eliminate what are called “conscientious exemptions” because of the re-emergence of diseases like measles and whooping cough attributed to growing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.

“We are just saying, ‘Look, if you are going to send your children to public schools, they need to be vaccinated,’” he told the Texas Tribune. “We are going to ask that you keep other children safe.”

The measure, which Villalba said he would file in the days ahead, comes as several other states are re-evaluating their immunization laws as they battle a measles outbreak linked with exposure to an unvaccinated woman in a California amusement park, according to the report.

Texas is among 20 states that waive school vaccine requirements because of personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All but two states — Mississippi and West Virginia — grant exemptions from school immunization requirements on religious grounds.

Under Villalba’s proposal, Texas would not allow an exemption for either of those reasons. Students would still be able to receive medical waivers, which doctors grant in cases where an allergic reaction or a weakened immune system could cause health complications.

There are signs that such legislation might encounter opposition from other lawmakers, including state Sen. Charles Schwertner, the Georgetown Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the Texas Tribune report said.

State Rep. Tony Dale said while he vaccinates his own children, he supports families who wish to not vaccinate.

“It is without question that vaccines play an important role in preventing infectious disease and improving public health,” Dale said.

“It must also be recognized that certain organized religions have a First Amendment right to conscientiously object to participate in practices that conflict with their religious belief,” Dale went on to say.

“As a parent, I ensure that my children are protected for the many diseases that have previously been eradicated or substantially reduced by this public health effort,” Dale said.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing.

About three out of every ten people who contract measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections or diarrhea. Complications are more common in adults and young children. According to the CDC, measles can be serious, especially for children younger than 5 years old.

It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death.

The CDC recommends that all children starting at around 1 year of age receive the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles.

Barth said parents should work with their physician when determining what types of precautions to take for their children.

“Parents should work in concert with their medical provider and explore options with their doctors based on their needs,” she said.