AUSTIN, Texas — Texas moved closer Friday to restricting emergency immunizations given to children removed from troubled homes, worrying doctors and handing a political victory for vaccination opponents in a state where the number of families forgoing shots is soaring.
Vaccination critics are trying to build a foothold in Texas, and the state's Republican-controlled House has now signed off on prohibiting doctors from administering any immediate immunizations— other than for tetanus — for children newly taken into state custody.
Doctors argue there are real implications.
During a pertussis outbreak last year in North Texas, Dr. Anu Partap of Dallas said she didn't hesitate to give vaccinations to new foster children who were removed from homes for abuse or neglect. But she said that couldn't happen again under a bill that is now likely to head soon to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.
"If I had a 6-month old in my clinic, delaying a shot has more risk than spending time looking for vaccine records," said Partap, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, who also serves as director of the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children's Health.
More than 44,000 parents in Texas filed personal-belief exemptions last school year to shield their children from vaccinations, a nearly twentyfold jump from 2003. That was still less than 1 percent of students enrolled but the rising number still troubles doctors.
Anti-vaccination efforts have moved from the fringes in Texas to the floor of the Statehouse behind increased political organization, including a political action committee called Texans for Vaccine Choice, and elected allies with libertarian streaks.
"All you got to decide for yourself, is it the parent's decision to decide or the state?" Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler said on the House floor earlier this month during a debate over a similar provision. "And vaccines are not in any case emergency in nature."
Texas and 17 other states allow philosophical exemptions to vaccines. California used to let students forgo vaccinations for similar reasons — only to approve some of the country's strictest vaccine requirements last year. That law eliminated religious and personal beliefs as reasons for opting out of mandatory immunizations.
The most common immunizations protect against measles, mumps, and rubella, or German measles, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and hepatitis A and B. State health officials said Friday they could not immediately provide how many children in state custody received vaccination within the first few weeks of being removed from a home.
Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development in Houston, said the state is heading in the wrong direction.
"We're at the point where nothing is going to happen until we have a catastrophic measles outbreak," Hotez said.
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