Texas is one of 17 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations for children on “philosophical” grounds.
These people are referred to as “conscientious objectors,” and the number of people choosing not to vaccinate their children has significantly increased in Nueces County in recent years.
In 2011, only .25 percent of students had documented conscientious exemptions in Nueces County. In 2018, that number rose to .69 percent.
“The idea that these diseases that we had basically eradicated could start coming back and start harming my little patients whom I love really angers me,” Dr. Katherine Hensley said.
Texas state law allows parents to decline vaccinating their child if they provide written documentation because of medical reasons or reasons of conscience, which include religious beliefs.
Hensley said when a parent is on the fence about vaccinating their child, she tries to get to the root of their hesitation.
“What specifically have they heard? Because I want to know where that hesitancy and decision is coming from, because I can speak to that,” Hensley said. “I have yet to hear a myth about vaccines that I hear on the internet or through my patients that I haven’t found evidence to dispel.”
Ultimately, the doctor wants parents to consider the magnitude of their decision.
“I want people to understand that it’s not just about their own personal rights. When they make a decision not to vaccinate their children, they’re affecting other people’s right to be protected from harm and disease, and I think that’s why it’s such a controversial issue for people,” Hensley said.
Certain U.S. cities have been deemed “hot spots” for the measles based on the percentage of unvaccinated school children in those regions. No South Texas cities have been designated as hot spots.
Houston and Dallas have both been declared hot spots.