Some lawmakers in Texas are apparently very unworried about the growing number of epidemics across the country involving diseases once nearly eradicated by vaccines, including a five-county one in their state. A few of them are even pushing a bill that would make it even easier to opt out of vaccinations, the Texas Observer reported Tuesday, with one of claiming that people can always just get “antibiotics.”
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The context: Vaccines save lives and allow for once-devastating diseases to be mostly preventable. The Centers for Disease Control issued a press release in 2014 saying that U.S. immunization programs had prevented some 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the past two decades. However, there is currently a large movement of people opposed to mandatory vaccination, who generally justify that position with scientifically unsupported beliefs that vaccines expose people to toxins and cause autism or some other random bogeyman, like ADHD.
These are conspiracy theories. The science is beyond clear that vaccines are safe and effective, and usually only pose a risk to a tiny handful of folks across the country with allergies to some vaccine ingredients. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has stated anti-vaxxers are a global health threat that contributes to the resurgence of preventable diseases. Washington state health officials, for example, have stated that a still-raging measles epidemic in the state is tied to low vaccination rates.
That’s led to officials in many states getting a little freaked out, and per a recent report in the Washington Post, anti-vaxxers generally appear to be losing the fight against new laws tightening restrictions. But in Texas, the Observer reported, a few legislators are trying to push the pendulum in the other direction.
A bill filed by GOP representative and House Freedom Caucus member Matt Krause to the Texas Legislature this month would ease the process by which parents can request exemptions to vaccination requirements for their children, the Observer wrote. The paper added the bill would also prevent state health agencies from tracking vaccination rates, which is pretty clever, if you wrote the bill and were also the measles virus.
One proponent, Republican state representative and outspoken Texans for Vaccine Choice ally Bill Zedler, told the Observer the U.S. is “not the Soviet Union,” bragged about how he was never debilitated by contracting diseases that hadn’t had vaccines yet, and said no one is dying from measles since we have “antibiotics and that kind of stuff”:
Texas state Representative Bill Zedler doesn’t understand the fuss over the resurgence of infectious diseases. “When I grew up, I had a lot of these illnesses,” he said, listing measles, mumps and chickenpox. “They wanted me to stay at home. But as far as being sick in bed, it wasn’t anything like that”...
... “They want to say people are dying of measles. Yeah, in third-world countries they’re dying of measles,” Zedler said, shaking his head. “Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”
Word to Zedler: Measles is a virus. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections. There is no prescription medication to treat measles, which Healthline notes can weaken the immune system and invite everything from ear infections to potentially lethal pneumonia. It can also spread to the brain, causing encephalitis. But one can prevent contracting said virus by getting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which the CDC says is 97 percent effective with the recommended two doses.
By the way, reports of measles-related deaths do occur in the U.S., and in epidemics from 1989-1991 that saw about 55,000 cases, 11,000 were hospitalized and at least 123 people died. (Antibiotics existed from 1989 to 1991.) Again, the CDC has also stated vaccinations have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths in recent decades.
Krause, the bill’s backer, also told the Observer that vaccine proponents were fearmongering:
Krause, who is also backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, argues that his legislation merely streamlines the process for parents who will obtain the exemptions anyway. He dismissed the many concerns raised by medical professionals last session. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” Krause told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”
According to the Observer’s report, the bill is fortunately likely to get held up by legislative deadlock. But during a 2017 debate on a similar bill, the paper separately reported, there had been a 1,700 percent increase in nonmedical vaccine exemptions in Texas since legislators created a “reasons of conscience” opt-out option in 2003, rising “dramatically from 2,314... to 44,716 in 2016.”