Health officials are watching pockets of Texas closely because of the number of parents requesting exemptions under Texas’s broad vaccine exemption law. Texas is one of 16 states that allow parents to bypass vaccine requirements for enrolling their kids in school by claiming a conscientious exemption, along with citing medical or religious concerns.
Without an exemption, kindergarteners must have 10 immunizations to be enrolled in Texas schools. Since 2006, when the state first started reporting the data, the exemption rate for kindergarteners in Texas has risen from 0.3% for the 2005-06 school year to 2.15% for the 2018-19 school year.
In Texas, school districts, private schools and charter schools are required to report their vaccine exemption rates. The data collection is done through a survey administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, but some schools don’t report consistently, leaving gaps in the data. Data for the 2019-20 school year won't be available until the summer of 2020.
The data shows certain communities — like the Dallas Independent School District — have seen a recent increase in conscientious exemptions for kindergarteners. Others — like the El Paso Independent School District — have seen exemptions plummet. Some smaller private schools, meanwhile, have exemption rates that are significantly higher than those of other schools. The Austin Waldorf School had the highest vaccine exemption rate for the 2018-19 school year, at 52.9%. Alliance Christian Academy in Fort Worth had the second-highest rate at 40.6%.
When enough of a community is immunized against a disease, that group has what's known as herd immunity, meaning there is a low risk of a disease spreading. Vaccine-preventable diseases have different herd immunity thresholds. Measles, which is highly contagious, has a high herd immunity threshold of 95%. According to a state report for the 2018-19 school year, Texas kindergarteners statewide had coverage levels higher than 95% for all required vaccines. Yet the data from individual school districts and private schools suggests that some communities may fall short of meeting that threshold for some vaccines.