Vaccination rates good in most Hays Co. schools
When San Marcos public school students head back to class on Monday, many will do so with new clothes and backpacks.
But some may be bringing something more sinister, like preventable disease.
Overall, students in Hays County schools have a high rate of vaccinations that are required by the state of Texas, but over the past seven years, the number of students who are not vaccinated because of a conscientious exemption has grown — from .83 percent countywide in the 2011-1012 school year to 2.09 percent in 2017-2018.
Texas is one of fewer than two dozen states that allows “personal belief” exemptions, and statistics from the State Department of Health Services indicate more and more parents are using it. For the most part, the local trend mirrors that of the state in that the rate of objection is higher in private and parochial schools.
But there are exceptions to that trend. Of the county’s nine public and private schools, only one — Santa Cruz Catholic School in Buda — had an objection rate of zero during the last school year. That stands in great contrast to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Wimberley, which had an objection rate of 9.68 percent during the 2017-2018 school year.
The objection rate for the San Marcos CISD is 0.56 percent and that of Hays CISD is 1.79 percent. Both of those are “excellent numbers,” according to Eric Schneider, the county’s epidemiologist, and “probably below the state average” of the number of parents registering objections.
The Master’s School of San Marcos has an objection rate of 3.61 percent; Texas Preparatory School’s objection rate is 3.61 percent. The rate of objection is 5.59 percent at San Marcos Baptist Academy and 6.92 percent at the Katherine Anne Porter School.
Wimberley ISD did not respond to a state survey requesting objection rates.
Texas requires students to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B,, varicella (chicken pox) and meningococcal meningitis. Schneider said despite the fact these vaccines exist, the diseases still show up.
“These are not third world diseases,” he said. “They are diseases I see here in Hays County. Every week a new one comes across my desk.”
Schneider said that in the last month, he has seen six cases of whooping cough, eight cases of chicken pox, two cases of mumps and four cases of hepatitis B, “all of which can be prevented by a vaccine, and at back to school time, these diseases will be going to school with these children.”
Schneider said many parents put their children in private or parochial school for the very reason of bypassing vaccinations, some out of the mistaken belief they are linked to autism.
“There is no scientific proof autism is linked to vaccinations,” Schneider said. “There was a study done years and years ago by a scientist that has been disproven hundreds of times. Nobody has been able to repeat his results — there’s no factual link.”
He also noted that there are some valid, medical reasons against vaccination. “For example a weakened immune system.” In some of those cases, he said, vaccines can be counter-effective. “They basically can backfire.”
The vast majority of students, however, benefit from what is called herd immunity, which basically says the more people are vaccinated against a specific disease, the lower the possibility of an outbreak. “If your vaccination rates are very high, more people will be immune. If rates are low, more children are vulnerable to catch the disease and it’s more likely to spread through a localized population like an office or a school.
Schneider said another issue that accompanies back to school is students showing up for class while sick. “A lot of parents who send their kids to public school have full time jobs as well, they need to work and they send their kids to school when they are mildly sick. If they are running even a slight fever, there’s a strong chance they could be contagious. When a child is sick, keep them away from school to help prevent the spread of that disease.”