Kindergarten and seventh-grade students in Texas have slightly lower vaccination rates this school year, according to a new report from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The state agency reports that immunization rates dropped 0.1 percentage point in both grades. The drop was due mostly to a growing number of parents claiming conscientious exemptions under a state law that allows them not to get their children vaccinated for various reasons, including religious beliefs.
There has been a decrease in the number of students who aren't fully vaccinated but are allowed to stay in school until they are, the report finds. There has also been a decrease in the number of "delinquencies," meaning children haven't been vaccinated, but their parents haven't claimed an exemption.
Schools in Texas are required to report immunization statuses to the state each year. Last fall, surveys were mailed to 1,182 public school districts and 948 accredited private schools in the state. The survey captured the statuses of students all on the same day: the last Friday in October.
Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said suburban and more affluent areas of the state were more likely to report a drop in vaccination rates.
“In Central Texas we see that, as well,” Van Deusen said. “And some of the counties west of the Austin area seem to have higher exemption rates than others.”
Overall, rates remain high in the state. According to the report, coverage was above 95 percent for each vaccine required in both grades.
Van Deusen said the rates have been falling very slightly – but consistently.
“It really is the same trend we’ve seen since [conscientious] exemption became available 15 years ago now – or even a little bit more than that,” he said. “It’s been pretty much a steady increase year by year.”
There have been more measles cases in Texas than usual, Van Deusen said, which is something the agency is “tracking very closely.” He said health officials are urging parents to vaccinate their children and talk to their pediatricians.
“These are important steps. These are diseases we still see. Thankfully they are not as common as they used to be in Texas," he said, "but they are out there – and immunization is such a simple, easy and safe way to prevent them.”