Texas's spirit of independence really shoots the state in the foot sometimes. This time it's related to immunizations, where Texas ranks in the bottom one-third of states in terms of getting children the necessary vaccines.
According to Bloomberg, only 67.5 percent of Texas children have all seven of the recommended vaccines. Disturbingly, even the state with the highest rate of vaccination – Mississippi – only has 76 percent of children with all seven vaccines. Alaska has the lowest rate, at only 59 percent.
Though in the bottom third of states in terms of children who have the full set of recommended vaccination, Texas ranks even lower for several vaccines – it's in the bottom ten states for the polio and hepatitis B vaccines, as well as the DTaP vaccine, which prevents against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
The consequences of low rates of vaccinations are not surprising. Read about Texas's ensuing whooping cough and measles outbreaks after the jump.Lo and behold, there is a major whooping cough (aka pertussis) outbreak in Texas. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 3,187 cases of whooping cough as of November 18 – the second highest number of cases on record since the 1950s.The highest number of cases was in 2009, when there were 3,358 cases – a number the state is on pace to surpass. It's estimated that Texas will end the year with 3,800 cases of whooping cough.
Tarrant County has been hit the hardest, with over 600 cases of whooping cough this year. Over fifty people have been hospitalized as a result, almost all of whom are children under five. Using data from earlier in November, the distribution of whooping cough cases is shown below:
So far, two infants have died from whooping cough in Texas this year. That's because children under 6 months are most at risk of dying from whooping cough, but children under 2 months cannot be vaccinated against the disease. That's why parents who forego the vaccinations for their children are not only putting their own kids at risk, but everyone else's. According to Forbes, “authorities calculate that for every known case of pertussis, ten more people are walking around with it, coughing on babies too young to be vaccinated or infecting others whose immunity – natural or acquired – has waned.”
And let's not forget measles. In August of this year, a measles outbreak in North Texas that infected at least twenty people was traced to an anti-vaccination megachurch in Tarrant County. Because measles is so contagious, it's not just neighboring towns and counties that are on alert, but even neighboring states.
It's not rocket science. The five states with the highest rates of whooping cough – Texas, California, Arizona, Ohio and Utah – all allow parents to opt out of vaccinations based on philosophical objections. According to Forbes, “Since Texas began allowing non-medical exemptions [to vaccinations]in 2003, rates of opt-out because of 'conscience' have climbed every year. Regardless of where they're offered, these exemptions are billed on many anti-vaccination sites as a way of expressing one's independence from authority, a sort of 'You can't tell me what to do with my child' thumbing at The Man.” So parents are foregoing immunizations based on a spirit of anti-government sentiment and misinformation. And because of them, Texas kids are getting sick.
What's worse than a whooping cough and a measles outbreak? The fact that they were completely preventable.