Local school immunization exemptions are high

By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News

Some schools in Four Points have immunization exemption rates far higher than national averages. Rising rates of non-immunization follow national trends, despite overwhelming evidence that immunizing children is safe and effective.

Most notably, Grandview Hills Elementary has 28 students out of 463 — or six percent — whose parents have opted not to immunize, whether for medical reasons or “reasons of conscience.” This is more than three times the national rate of 1.8 percent and the Travis County rate of 1.7 percent.immunization

At River Place Elementary, 4.4 percent of the students or more than twice the national average, have been opted out of immunizations by their parents, and around 3.5 percent for Steiner Ranch Elementary and Canyon Ridge and Four Points Middle Schools. (See chart for all Four Points schools’ rates.)

These rates rank schools in Four Points higher than Leander ISD for immunization exemptions. For the 2013-14 school year, 2.6 percent of LISD students were not immunized, while this school year a total of 3.2 percent of students at Four Points schools were not.

Furthermore, overall LISD rates have been slowly increasing over the past few years. In the 2011-12 school year, only two percent of students were exempted, then 2.4 percent the following year, and 2.6 during the last school year. Numbers are not yet available for the current school year.

It is easy, too, to see changing attitudes toward immunizations in parents of younger children as Vandegrift, with the oldest students, only has an exemption rate of 2 percent.

Nationally, there are states and regions with higher exemption rates. Oregon is the highest in the U.S., with a rate above seven percent — similar to Marin County, Calif.

A 2013 study in the journal Pediatrics found that living in geographic areas with non-immunized “clusters” correlates to higher risk of whooping cough (pertussis).

Texas public schools require the following immunizations: Diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (DTP), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), hepatitis A and B, varicella, and meningococcal.

It is somewhat challenging for a family to receive an immunization exemption from Texas public schools. Unlike some states, which require only a parent signature, Texas requires that an official, notarized exemption form be filed.

Evidence shows that immunizing children is safe and effective yet rising rates of non-immunization follow national trends. Theories linking immunization to autism lack scientific evidence. Additionally, while there is the risk of an adverse reaction with any drug, the risk of death for all childhood immunizations is still a fraction of the risk of death from the diseases they are meant to prevent.

Brenna Gerdelman, a family practitioner at the Austin Diagnostic Clinic in Four Points and a Steiner Ranch resident, recommends, “following the American Academy of Pediatrics immunization schedule. It is the best opportunity that we have to keep our children healthy.”

She further recommends that parents with concerns should ask questions and do research. “There are many large studies over long periods of time that establish vaccine safety.”

Texas landed in the national news in 2013 for an outbreak of measles in north Texas that left 21 infected, contributing to Texas having the second largest measles outbreak in the nation. According to the Texas Department of Health, there were nearly 4,000 cases of pertussis in Texas last year, 311 in Travis County.

Immunization exemption rates in local schools 2013-14 

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