Vaccination exemptions for conscientious reasons continue rising in Frisco as a growing number of measles cases emerge across the country.
The exemption rate for Frisco ISD has increased from 1.52% to 2.4% since the 2012-13 school year, whereas the rates for Leadership Prep School and Legacy Christian Academy have grown to 5.8% and 6.4%, respectively. Schools are not required to report which vaccines students are opting not to receive.
Nationwide, the 940 reported cases of the measles this year through May 24 is the largest number since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the disease eliminated in 2000 in the United States.
The majority of people who contracted the measles were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.
Two measles cases were reported in Collin County and one in Denton County as of May 31, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Measles is so contagious that experts said as much as 95% of any given population needs to be vaccinated to prevent an outbreak. Leadership Prep School, Legacy Christian Academy and one FISD school have exemption rates of more than 5%, but it is unclear whether those students are exempt from the measles, mumps and rubella—or MMR—vaccine.
Collin and Denton counties are following the trend of other places in Texas, as more and more people are choosing not to vaccinate their children, said Juan Rodriguez, the Denton County chief epidemiologist.
Rodriguez said he expects exemption rates to keep rising while diseases, such as whooping cough and the measles, make a comeback.
“The reason why less and less people stopped having these diseases is because of vaccinations,” he said. “These diseases were almost eliminated, and now they are making a resurgence because people are choosing not to vaccinate.”
Dr. Jawaid Asghar, the Collin County chief epidemiologist, said parents with higher education levels are often the ones choosing not to vaccinate their children.
“There is hesitation and misinformation out there,” he said. “Also, the studies that came about autism and MMR, the CDC proved it not to be true based on fact, but still there is a lot of misinformation out there on [vaccinations].”
Vaccinations are vital to protecting the community at large, said Chris Van Deusen, the DSHS director of media relations.
“It just takes one person who is not immunized to take a trip to Europe or Asia, where measles is much more common than it is here, and they come back and they are in a community or population where immunization rates are low for some reason,” Van Deusen said. “That could spread very, very quickly.”
The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2003 that allows vaccination exemptions for “reasons of conscience.” A conscientious exemption allows a student to opt out of a vaccine when there is a religious, philosophical or moral objection to it. Texas also allows exemptions for medical reasons.
Conscientious exemptions require a notarized letter from a child’s guardian and remain valid for two years.
In accordance with Texas law, public and private schools require students to receive six mandatory vaccines before they can enroll in kindergarten.
These vaccinations are meant to prevent chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A and B. Texas students are required to get two doses of MMR with the first dose received on or after the first birthday.
A seventh vaccine is also required for students to enroll in seventh grade. This vaccine protects against meningitis.
Vaccines work by helping the body develop an immunity to a disease, said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Health and a professor at UT Southwestern.
“For example, the measles vaccine is a weakened strain of the measles virus,” he said. “It’s a strain of virus that, though it can’t cause disease, but is fundamentally so similar to the real measles [virus] that once someone’s exposed to it, they develop an immune response to that vaccine, and that protects them against measles.”
Van Deusen said vaccines are not foolproof, but they are highly effective. The measles vaccine, for instance, is 97% effective, he said.
“Still there is 3% of the population that even if they had those two doses, for whatever reason, their immune system just isn’t going to respond and they could still get sick with the measles if they are exposed to it,” he said.
Most people who contract the measles are able to fully recover, but some people may have lingering health issues or even die from the disease, Van Deusen said. Babies cannot receive the MMR vaccine until they are a year old.
“Particularly people who are at greater risk are very young children, babies, people who are elderly or have some kind of underlying health conditions are much more susceptible to serious complications,” he said.
Local resident Mary Barnes said vaccinations should not be forced on parents. Barnes said her sons were fully vaccinated until ages 10 and 12. But after she had a negative reaction to a vaccination, she decided to stop vaccinating her children.
“I absolutely think the choice should be [left to] parents, or individuals in the case of adults, in particular in cases where there are genetic health issues, which are contraindications for vaccinations,” she said.
Sheacy Thompson, the director of public relations for Leadership Prep School, said in a statement that the school would notify the DSHS immediately if a student contracted a known infectious disease.
“Leadership Prep School takes its responsibility to protect the health and safety of our students and employees seriously and would enact its procedure for notifying families as well as teachers and staff of the possible exposure and common signs and symptoms of the disease,” Thompson said.
Legacy Christian Academy declined to comment.
Meghan Cone, the assistant director of communications for FISD, said the district would rely on the expertise of local and state health officials if an outbreak occurred at a school.
Cone said FISD tries to be accommodating to all parents, providing information for both required vaccinations and exemption forms. The district offers immunization clinics in conjunction with new student registration. FISD also points parents to other local clinics where students can get required vaccines.
“We follow the law,” Cone said. “The law says you have to have shots in order to attend school, but the law also provides an option for parents to seek an exemption should they so choose.”
Sherelle Black, Emily Davis, Olivia Lueckemeyer and Cassidy Ritter contributed to this story.