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Despite Measles Outbreak, Texas Child Vaccine Exemptions Continue To Rise

HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The number of people in the state who chose to not immunize their children for non-medical reasons has jumped this past school year despite a record-breaking measles outbreak in the U.S., according to a Texas Department of Health Services report.

The number of parents who sought exemptions rose 14% in 2018-2019, continuing a 15-year upward trend that public health officials worry leaves communities susceptible to a resurgence of preventable diseases, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"Seeing non-medical exemptions increase again on a double-digit scale should create outrage for everyone," Allison Winnike, president and CEO of the Houston-based Immunization Partnership, said in a statement. "It's time for Texans to take action."

Measles has been reported in Texas and 22 other states this year. As of Thursday, 764 measles cases were reported — the most recorded in the nation since 1994.

Texas is one of 17 states that permit waivers of school vaccine requirements based on the conscience of parents or their personal values. California, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow exemptions on religious grounds. All 50 states grant exemptions for medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system.

A study by the Public Library of Science Journal of Medicine looked at Texas areas with the highest exemptions. Among them - both Tarrant and Collin County. Specifically, Fort Worth and Plano.

The increase in the number of parents choosing to not vaccinate their children is primarily due to massive amounts of misinformation, said Porfirio Villarreal, public information officer for the Houston health department.

The number of exemptions in Texas stands at 64,176, representing a roughly 2,000% boost since 2003, when the state started letting parents decline vaccination requirements. In 2003-2004, there were around 3,000. There were slightly fewer than 57,000 in 2017-2018.

The report shows that some schools have an opt-out rate of over 40%.

"It's unsettling that at a time when measles is returning nationally because of vaccine exemptions, the exemption trend in Texas continues to get worse," said Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease specialist. "It suggests a tone deafness."

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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