State figures show the number of Texas parents refusing to have their children vaccinated for nonmedical reasons rose nearly 9 percent last school year.
Nearly 45,000 Texas children were not vaccinated due to "conscientious exemption," The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday. That compares to about 3,000 children opting out in 2003, when Texas began allowing vaccination exemptions.
Texas, with about 5.5 million schoolchildren, is among 18 states allowing waivers of vaccine requirements based on conscience or personal beliefs. Children heading to school are required to receive immunizations against illnesses such as polio, measles and mumps.
Rebecca Hardy represents Texans for Vaccine Choice.
“We are neither pro vaccine or anti vaccine, we are a group that simply supports personal liberties and informed consent,” Hardy explained. “We launched in February of 2015 as a result of a Republican legislators out of Dallas filed a bill last session to do away with the exemptions."
Opponents say they're protecting their children by avoiding vaccines.
Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the pro-exemption National Vaccine Information Center, said Texas' vaccine laws, "strike an appropriate balance between achieving public health goals and protecting both vaccine vulnerable individuals and basic human rights."
Critics of vaccination exemptions have raised concerns about the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, said the vaccination rates in Texas among preschool-aged children rank 48th in nation.
"The bottom line that is that children in the state of Texas are now at great risk for measles and other killer childhood infections," Hotez said. "This is happening because parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids and are doing so because of erroneous beliefs."
Public health officials say vaccines are safe, and credit them for bringing infectious diseases, such as smallpox, yellow fever and polio under some degree of control.