Austin, Texas — In Texas, theisn't just a health issue, it's political. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a conservative Republican, says while he is not against immunizations, he opposes any legislation related to vaccine compliance.
"I always come down on the side of parental rights and individual liberty," Stickland said. "The state does not own our children. Parents are the ones that are tasked with making those decisions."
Texas has more than 56,000 children with non-medical exemptions for "reasons of conscience." A decade ago, it was 10,000. Legislative efforts to eliminate the exemption failed after pressure from anti-vaccine groups.
"The anti-vax group have become very, very politically engaged," said Republican Rep. Sarah Davis.
Davis said even more modest bills, like improving vaccine reporting, fail to advance.
"They literally will drive in from all across the state and campaign very heavily against anyone that they think stands in the way of their, I believe anti-science, anti-vaccine agenda," she said.
"The objections is that it's just a controversial vote. We're creating an issue. It's easier just to ignore it," Davis said.
"What you are doing right now is throwing gas on your enemies' movement. These people were not motivated to be involved politically before you tried to shove it down their throats with government mandates," Stickland said.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez tracks the vaccine landscape, and called it a "self-inflicted wound."
"We allowed the anti-vaccine lobby to rule the internet, social media, and now political action committees. We didn't stand up to them and unfortunately the state legislators they caved," Hotez said.
"Until we what I would say just average Texans standing up and saying, 'This is enough is enough. I wanna see our vaccine levels increase,' then we're only gonna get worse," Davis said.
As the fight continues, caught in the middle are the children.