Aug 24, 2023 - News

Vaccine exemptions increasing in Texas

Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The share of Texas kindergarteners granted exemptions from required vaccines nearly doubled between 2012 and 2022, per CDC estimates.

Why it matters: Vaccinations reduce the spread of childhood illnesses — some potentially fatal — that once plagued the country, such as polio.

  • Studies show an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

Driving the news: The anti-vaccine movement was growing even before the COVID-19 pandemic but has become more mainstream since 2020.

  • While COVID-19 vaccination is not required for young children attending U.S. public schools, concerns about that shot may be fueling broader vaccine skepticism.

Details: Children are generally required to get a number of vaccinations before attending public school, but exemptions can be given for both medical and non-medical reasons (such as religious or moral objections).

By the numbers: The nationwide median kindergarten vaccination exemption rate was rising even before the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019.

  • It has stayed at 2.5% or higher since 2020, coming in at 2.7% in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

Zoom in: As of 2022, 2.9% of Texas kindergarten students had vaccine exemptions, up from 1.5% in 2012.

  • The CDC estimates that 99% of kindergartners in the state received polio and measles vaccines in the school year that ended in 2012. The number dropped to 94% in the school year that ended in 2022.
  • In Dallas County, Coram Deo Academy has the highest rate of conscientious exemptions, at almost 29%, in the 2021-22 school year, the most recent state data available.
  • Dallas ISD has a conscientious exemption rate of 0.6%

Zoom out: Idaho (9.8%), Utah (7.4%) and Oregon (7%) had the highest median kindergarten vaccination exemption rates as of 2022.

  • Mississippi, New York and West Virginia were tied for the lowest, at 0.1%.

Between the lines: Even as the kindergarten vaccine exemption rate ticks up, Americans as a whole are overwhelmingly supportive of childhood vaccinations, per a recent Pew survey.

  • When it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot, 88% of Americans said the benefits outweigh the risks, compared with 10% who feel the opposite.

Yes, but: Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school, Pew found — down from 82% in the pre-pandemic era.

  • While Democratic support for vaccine requirements held steady at around 85% between pre- and post-pandemic years, Republican support fell from 79% in 2019 to 57% in 2023.

Of note: During the 2021 state legislative session, several anti-vaccine speakers pointed to their "Texas pride" as one of the reasons they opposed vaccine mandates.


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