Texas study identifies people more likely to avoid vaccinations for their kids

AUSTIN, Texas — As the world waits with bated breath for a coronavirus vaccine, a recent study conducted at the University of Texas, Austin identified some demographics within the Longhorn State less likely to vaccinate their children. College-educated, ethnically white Texans living in either the suburbs or an urban area with a higher median income are the demographic that most often avoids vaccinations for their children.

Researchers compared publicly available census data with the amount of conscientious vaccination exemptions from all school systems across Texas. For reference, Texas is one of 15 U.S. states that allows families to invoke a “philosophical objection to vaccines” in order to avoid vaccinating their children for school. Meanwhile, 45 states, as well as Washington D.C., allow people to avoid immunizations for religious reasons.

“The study not only provides a window into local vaccination patterns throughout Texas, but also allows us to make predictions,” comments professor of integrative biology Lauren Ancel Meyers in a release. “If you don’t have data on the vaccination rate for a given community, you can use demographic factors to predict outbreak risks for vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Generally, a vaccination exemption rate of 3% or higher within any one school or school district is considered too high. Such a percentage is believed to place learning institutions at an unreasonably high risk for an outbreak of a preventable disease, like the measles.

Between 2012 and 2018, Texas school districts have seen a big increase in children opting out of vaccines. Public school districts have seen their high-risk levels of exemptions rise from 3% to 6%, private schools from 20% to 26%, and charter schools from 17% to 22%.

This study investigated the top 10 metropolitan Texas areas, which included all rural, suburban and urban communities within each district. Interestingly, both suburban and higher-income urban communities had higher numbers of students not getting vaccinated than rural areas. Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston were the cities with the highest rates of vaccination opt-outs, as well as areas with more young children, caucasians, and college graduates.

“We wanted to identify potential pockets of hidden risk throughout Texas stemming from declining childhood vaccination rates,” Meyers says.

Conversely, people living in poorer Texas neighborhoods, as well as people who spoke a non-English language, were more likely to have a lower vaccination opt-out rate.

“This study allows us to detect potential hot spots at a finer geographic scale,” Meyers explains. “The increasing numbers of exemptions are already alarming. In addition, the clustering of unvaccinated children in tight communities only amplifies the risk of an outbreak.”

All in all, researchers estimate that 5% of texan metropolitan public schools, 28% of private schools, and 22% of charter schools are at a very high risk of suffering a preventable outbreak.

This study was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the United States, but one has to wonder if these individuals will feel the same way when a novel coronavirus vaccine is developed and approved.

The study is published in PLOS Medicine.

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John Anderer

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