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Houston Chronicle Gets It Wrong

The latest in a seemingly unending string of articles falsely predicting disease outbreaks of catastrophic proportions was published a few weeks ago by local reporter, Todd Ackerman. What reads like a science fiction thriller novel hardly bears any facts at all, yet is passed around the internet as truth. In a day and age where misinformation is supposedly combated by social media outlets, mistruths and deceit thrive on the vaccination issue. What you might not expect, however, is from whom those webs of lies are being spun. Let’s take a look at some of what Mr. Ackerman shared, shall we?

Many Houston-area children are being exposed to unvaccinated schoolmates at rates greater than previously thought, whether because of exemptions for non-medical reasons or simple tardiness in getting the required shots, according to a new analysis of the latest state data.

Where to begin? First, when a student uses a vaccine exemption form it does not mean that they are “unvaccinated” (a term that, grammatically, begs many questions – but I digress). A student may be fully vaccinated according to the CDC recommended schedule, but if they opt out of only one shot recommended by the state, then a vaccine exemption must be turned in.

Secondly, students in school today are recommended to receive about 5 times as many shots as their parents received as a school-aged child. By those numbers alone all of us parents and grandparents would be considered “unvaccinated” if we were to enter school with our shot records.

Lastly, we must get away from the use of this inaccurate description of any exemptions being labeled as “non-medical.” Using this term is purely intended to be inflammatory and divisive. Any respectable journalist would do well to avoid such misnomers, unless of course they are seeking to gain employment from the likes of TMZ. From the Centers for Disease Control website:

“CDC recommends that all health care personnel who administer vaccines receive comprehensive, competency-based training on vaccine administration policies and procedures BEFORE administering vaccines.”

Surely something taken as seriously by the CDC as vaccine administration could never be referred to as “non-medical.”

Vaccination is a medical procedure utilizing a pharmaceutical product. ALL medical procedures cary risks, and there is no such thing as a pharmaceutical product with zero side effects.

“A vaccine is a medication.  Like any medicine, vaccines have benefits and risks, and although highly effective, no vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing disease or 100 percent safe in all individuals.” (FDA)

Therefore, the decision to not vaccinate IS a medical decision, regardless of the underlying reason, in just the same way the decision to not take a particular antibiotic or to choose one type of surgery over another are medical decisions. Despite which vaccine exemption type is utilized by a parent, the reason for declining any vaccine is always a medical one. Always.

The analysis shows that vaccine exemptions at schools throughout Harris County have increased 175 percent since 2010, and that HISD’s 2018-2019 kindergarten delinquency rate for the measles, mumps and rubella shot was about five times the state rate.

It appears that we must go over this again as we have addressed it many times before. See one example here:

Perhaps all data should be analyzed before publishing articles to incite fear. Data collected from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that disease rates have not risen along with exemption rates, so why run story after story mentioning exemption rates if nary an outbreak has occurred because of them?

Interestingly, out of the 21 measles cases Texas has seen this year, only ONE case occurred in a K-12 school-aged child, and according to state data, that child had been vaccinated — meaning NOT attending school with an exemption on file.

“Vaccine exemptions plus tardiness can create deadly pockets of vulnerability,” said Rekha Lakshmanan, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the Immunization Partnership, a Houston-based pro-vaccine group. “It’s a dangerous, frightening picture in some places.”

Pieces of paper are now responsible for the spread of disease? That’s a new one.

What I can agree with is Mrs. Lakshmanan’s sentiment of these illnesses being a dangerous, frightening picture in some places, but those places are not first-world countries. Childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps, and chickenpox can be dangerous in countries rampant with unsanitary living conditions, lack of nutritious food or clean water, and basic medical care. That hardly describes the USA, however.

Those places include some Houston-area schools, mostly private, where the non-medical exemption rate ranges from 4 percent to 25 percent of the student population, and HISD schools where the delinquency rates range from 16 percent to more than 40 percent.

There’s that word again. It’s used 5 times throughout the article. Everytime inaccurately. Allow me to reiterate, despite which vaccine exemption type is utilized by a parent, the reason for declining any vaccine is always a medical one. Always.

The new numbers, some obtained through a Houston Chronicle open records request, provide the first look at the Houston area’s pockets of vulnerability since the state issued a report showing there were 64,176 exemptions for “reasons of conscience” at Texas schools in 2018-2019. That total is up 2,000 percent from 2003-2004, the first school year after the Legislature changed state law to allow such opt-outs.

As much as they like to describe the area as vulnerable you’d think we’d see more outbreaks. We must be a hardy bunch here in Texas. Or perhaps not being vaccinated is not synonymous with being diseased. Exemption rates being “up 2000%” sure does sound scary but still represents only 1.2% of the total enrollment in Texas schools.

Those advocating for the removal of exemption rights here in Texas try to justify doing so by attempting (unsuccessfully) to draw a link between rising school exemption rates and illness outbreaks in the community. Unfortunately for them, real world data does not support that link. For example, Austin Discovery School has an exemption rate of nearly 40% with no reported outbreaks. California HAS removed exemption rights and *shockingly* they continue to experience outbreaks even among fully immunized school populations – 90 cases of whooping cough all fully vaccinated as just one example. Clearly, exemptions have NO impact on disease rates.

It also coincides with a record-breaking national outbreak of measles. There have been 1,109 confirmed cases so far in 2019, the most in the United States since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Twenty-eight states have reported cases, including Texas, which has had 15*. Five of those were in the Houston area. *(Since this news article was published, the number of confirmed measles cases in Texas has risen to 21.)

According to the CDC, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States before widespread use of the measles vaccine. The measles was deadly in less than 0.01% of the cases. And as previously mentioned, of the 21 measles cases in Texas, only 1 was in a K-12 school-aged child. That child also has record of being vaccinated prior to acquiring the measles.

Source: DSHS Update on Measles in Texas (slide 12)

The outbreak has been attributed to the increasingly vocal efforts of the anti-vaccination movement, whose claim that vaccines cause harm has steadily picked up adherents in recent years. Concerned about the threat, Baylor College of Medicine issued a rare position paper two weeks ago, calling vaccines “among the most important life-saving technologies ever developed by humankind” and decrying the “misinformation” that has fueled the growth of anti-vaxxers.

First, we just showed that the data from our own health department does not attribute the outbreak to any sort of “anti-vaccination movement,” considering only one school-aged case of measles has been reported and it was a student who HAD BEEN VACCINATED.

Secondly, why is the plight of parents who saw vaccines injure their children with their own eyes always so consistently dismissed? As long as the media and public health officials continue to minimize vaccine risks, ignore vaccine injury, and refuse to come to the table and address the real reasons for vaccine hesitancy, the movement of those who advocate for vaccine choice is only going to grow. Vilifying, censoring, and even mocking those who suffered vaccine injury or even vaccine-induced death is not the solution. Perhaps Baylor College of Medicine and their primary vaccine apologist, Dr. Hotez, could spend their time more wisely by looking into the downfalls of the vaccination program and not writing position papers.

Children enrolled in school despite not having met vaccine requirements are not in compliance with Texas law. Under the law, schoolchildren are supposed to show proof they’re received six vaccines by kindergarten — those for chickenpox, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus, MMR, polio, hepatitis A and hepatitis B — all requiring more than one dose. By seventh grade, they also need to be vaccinated against meningitis.

Actually, Texas law allows for vaccine exemptions. These vaccines are not required to attend school. Isn’t that what the original premise of this article was all about?

Concern about the issue caused Stephen Williams, director of the Houston health department, and Dr. David Persse, the public health authority for the city, to recently write to the roughly 50 HISD schools whose delinquency rates exceed 5 percent to urge them to do better.

“There are some immediate next steps that we encourage you to take, which include having your school nurse inform all delinquent parents of their student’s status and require their compliance with state of Texas school requirements,” Persse and Williams wrote in the May 8 letter.

We here at TFVC also support timely and compliant paperwork. I do wonder, however, if these letters encouraging “compliance with the state of Texas school requirements” also included information on the other legal option of vaccine exemptions. I can only hope that the FULL extent of the law was transmitted in the letters by these school nurses, which would include information on how to obtain vaccine exemptions. I’m not optimistic about that, though.

“We would also like to take this opportunity to empower you to make the tough decision of not allowing students into your school who are not compliant with immunization requirements.”

I can’t help but read this as an affront to the civil rights afforded to us as American citizens. These gentlemen would like to “empower” the schools to discriminate against and segregate children? Why not take an opportunity to empower the schools to assist parents with filing the appropriate paperwork instead of restricting the children from an education?

This type of language is dangerous and should be cause for alarm to anyone with kids in the public school system. Might I provide a singular website link that will prove to be more helpful to HISD parents than anything written in the Houston Chronicle’s poorly researched article?

Read the Houston Chronicle article here.

2 thoughts on “Houston Chronicle Gets It Wrong”

  1. It’s alarming how effective the media is at convincing the general public of these lies and sensationalism. Wow.

    I’m so grateful for TFVC!!!!

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