Weakening Vaccine-Exemption Process Would Weaken Public Health Protections

Testimony by Joyce E. Mauk, MD

House Public Health Committee
House Bill 1124 by Rep. Matt Krause 

April 25, 2017

Testimony submitted on behalf of:  

  • Texas Pediatric Society
  • Texas Medical Association
  • Texas Public Health Coalition  

Good morning, Chairman Price and distinguished members,

My name is Dr. Joyce E. Mauk, and I am here today to speak respectfully in opposition to House Bill 1124 by Rep. Matt Krause on behalf of the more than 50,000 members of the Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Medical Association, and more than 30 member organizations of the Texas Public Health Coalition. I am the president of the Texas Pediatric Society and a neurodevelopmental pediatrician from Fort Worth.

As part of our training, pediatricians are taught how to read and interpret scientific studies. Based on ongoing analysis of public health measures and scientific literature, pediatricians are universally in favor of immunization against childhood diseases. Pediatricians who trained prior to the advent of many of our current vaccinations recall the devastating consequences of childhood diseases. I am old enough that in my residency, I had the opportunity to care for Silvie. Her grandmother was a carrier of pertussis, and Silvie at 4 months of age acquired pertussis, or whooping cough. She was hospitalized for more than a month with severe paroxysms of coughing that not only led to great difficulties with breathing but also slowed her growth rate. In my second year of residency, I was called to New Jersey to see a child who was gravely ill. Henry had been exposed to Haemophilus influenzae. This is a bacterial disease that we now routinely immunize against. It was clear that Henry had a severe case of meningitis and sepsis. I intubated him in the field and began medications to keep up his blood pressure. Unfortunately, after several days, Henry passed away from severe meningitis. Infectious diseases such as these rarely take the life a young child any more, due to our state’s high immunization rates.

While Texas pediatricians don’t agree with the state’s personal belief or conscientious exemption and we made that very clear when it was added at the last minute to an omnibus bill in 2003, we ensured that protections would be put in place to ensure only those parents who went out of their way to exempt their children from immunization would be able to do so. We are among 14 other states in the nation that have similar laws requiring parental notarization on a state-approved affidavit form. Additionally, many states have even stricter exemption processes requiring an educational component discussing the benefits of vaccination and the risks associated with not being vaccinated. Texas’ current process is for parents who have made a very specific decision not to immunize their children despite their physician’s best medical judgment. In fact, this mechanism probably works too well, because we know that since 2003, we have seen a 1,700-percent increase in vaccine exemptions. Seeking to relax this process is addressing a problem that does not exist and exacerbating another problem on the rise.

Childhood immunization is a public health issue, and ensuring our current process remains stringent ensures our schools maintain the necessary community or “herd” immunity that keeps all children safe, including those with medical contraindications or suppressed immune systems. Making the exemption form available to be printed online and available in all public schools is a recipe for disaster. You will see a sharp rise in personal belief exemptions across the state from parents who are simply taking the exemption out of convenience or have been provided misinformation from parties invested in eroding the public’s confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Furthermore, this deteriorates the opportunity for physicians and medical professionals to have thoughtful and comprehensive discussions with families who may be vaccine-hesitant.

The Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Medical Association, and the Texas Public Health Coalition stand committed to protecting our children from infectious disease by promoting the safety, efficacy, and public health triumph of immunizations. We look forward to working with this committee to promote future policies that would strengthen, not erode, our public health infrastructure to combat infectious disease.

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Last Updated On

April 26, 2018