Vaccination rates in school-age children were high for the 2022-23 school year, but increasing conscientious exemption rates and lingering pandemic disruptions prevent them from being higher, according to the National Conference of Legislatures.

The context

In the 2022-23 school year, rates for conscientious exemptions increased by 0.5% for most vaccines in Texas public schools, bringing the exemption rate to 3%, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Nationally, exemption rates increased from 2.6% to 3%. Chris Crookham, the immunizations unit program manager at Austin Public Health, said the pandemic may have affected the rise in exemption requests.

“Because of the fear and concern around the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, ... I think there was probably a large demand or a large request in exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines,” Crookham said. “That might have probably had some effect on exemptions for other vaccines as well.”

Rebecca Hardy, the president of Texans for Vaccine Choice—an organization that aims to protect and advance informed consent, medical privacy and vaccine choice through education and public policy—said she shares the same sentiment. She said the COVID-19 vaccine brought attention to other childhood vaccinations that do not have "the safety or efficacy testing that you would have expected."

Hardy, a speech-language pathologist, said she has seen firsthand the effects of vaccine injury.

"It was those early years of me setting up my practice that really kind of planted some seeds of 'something's not quite right with this vaccine program,'" Hardy said. "Fast forward several years later when I'm married and we're starting our family, those seeds that were planted many years ago really started to germinate when I started doing my own research on the vaccination program in America, and there's a lot of pitfalls in this program. The testing is not there, the double-blind placebo-based testing is not there. The lack of liability should be troubling to everyone."

Hardy said she has used Texas' vaccine exemption forms for enrolling her children in school.

Texas has three conditions for students’ vaccine exemptions:
  • If a health care provider determines a certain vaccine unsafe for the student
  • If the student is in the U.S. military
  • If they have a personal or religious belief against getting immunized
“Certainly, some exemptions are legitimate, and that's why they exist, ... but, of course, the more exemptions you have, the lower vaccine uptake you have,” Crookham said. “With a lower vaccine uptake, then there's going to be less immunity throughout the population.”

The TDSHS has different immunization requirements for different grade levels at public and private schools, and students entering kindergarten and seventh grade require new vaccinations. Students in those grades in Travis and Hays counties had an immunization rate of over 90% for every required vaccine.

Going forward

Crookham said APH has several programs to make vaccines more accessible and increase the community’s immunity, such as the Shots for Tots clinics; the Mobile Vaccine Program; and Vaccines for Children, a federal program administered by APH.