Despite the numerous coincidences, the year is not 1960. Politicians in Alabama are posturing any way they can to stand in the courthouse door, Harper Lee is writing again and — most importantly — deadly diseases such as the measles are on the rebound.
For the past few weeks, the all-but-eradicated but easily preventable virus has had a resurgence in the United States. The Washington Post reported Monday that a total of 119 people have been affected in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Many of those affected have been infants and toddlers who are too young to receive immunizations. The outbreak is thought to have originated in Southern California, specifically among the children of parents philosophically opposed to vaccinations. These objections can stem from religious dogma — the sect of Christian Science, for example, is opposed to vaccines as well as modern medicine — but usually are a result of a totally imaginary belief that vaccines can have harmful effects on their recipients.
While Texas has thankfully not hosted any transmission of the virus, the number of students unvaccinated is startlingly high. The Austin American-Statesman noted recently that more than 48 percent of the students at the Austin Waldorf School are unvaccinated. The Texan examined the issue as well and found that, among University students, only international students must prove vaccination histories.
Thankfully, some government officials are beginning to take note and offer common sense solutions. State Representative Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, recently proposed a bill that would rescind both religious and philosophical opt-outs for vaccines when it comes to public school students. Only two other states, Mississippi and West Virginia, currently have laws that tough.
Personal choice and parental rights over their children are compelling sound bites, but the issue of vaccinations is somewhat unique. In addition to putting one's children in harm's way, parents who believe in the quackery of the anti-vaccination movement put others' children at risk. Very young children and individuals with autoimmune disorders often cannot be safely vaccinated, thus their well-being relies upon herd immunity from an otherwise covered population.
Villalba is right to bring action toward this very real public health issue. Hopefully, reasonable Texans will come down on his side and not on the side of anti-science charlatans.
Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor.