A series of late-night tweets in which a Texas lawmaker promised to support tightened legislation on vaccines and referenced "playboy bunnies" has drawn the ire of a political action committee that supports loosening vaccine laws.
Texans For Vaccine Choice, whose website says it promotes "preservation of personal liberties," issued a statement Friday afternoon following the tweets by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas. In the tweets, Villalba promised to support new vaccine legislation and said he was tired of "playboy bunnies and [Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford] acting as doctors when our children's lives are at stake."
The "playboy bunnies" apparently refers to Jenny McCarthy, an actress and former Playboy model who has supported the idea that vaccines cause autism, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked. Stickland has supported leaving "medical decisions to parents instead of the government."
Jackie Schlegel, director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, called Villalba's tweets "sexist and derogatory."
"Mr. Villalba’s name calling is beneath the dignity and decency serious issues like this deserve," Schlegel said. "Rest assured we are not swayed in our dedication to fighting for the rights of all parents in Texas.”
Villalba did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Villalba proposed legislation in the last legislative session that would have narrowed exemptions in the state's vaccine requirements. Nearly one percent, or 38,000 Texas students, received non-medical exemptions from vaccines during the 2013-2014 school year. In 2004, just 3,000 Texas students received exemptions.
Villalba's bill drew the attention of Texans for Vaccine Choice, which largely helped kill it, and he drew a primary challenger this year who built his campaign largely on the vaccine issue.
Shortly after winning his primary, Villalba said he will not refile his vaccine legislation.
“I’m not interested in a suicide mission on this issue,” Villalba told the Tribune in April. “I sense — and this is unfortunate — the only way a bill like this gets any traction is an even worse large-scale outbreak, between now and session. Short of that, I just don’t think there is going to be the appetite to do this bill.”
But his tweets Thursday night indicated something different.
"I have no choice but to support new vaccine legislation," Villalba tweeted. "Science shall prevail. The anti-vaxers' rights do not supersede the rights of Texas parents."
Read more about Texas and vaccines:
- In Travis County, where residents are among the best educated in Texas, efforts by national medical groups to debunk concerns about vaccines appear to be meeting some of the strongest resistance. Parents of school-aged children there are choosing to avoid vaccine requirements at among the highest rates in the state, according to state data.
- Texans For Vaccine Choice’s mission, according to Schlegel-Polvado, is to guard parents’ rights to opt out of vaccine requirements — whether that means targeting legislators who seek to close non-medical exemptions or pushing for policies that otherwise protect parents who choose not to vaccinate, like preventing physicians from excluding them from their practices.