Amid Measles Outbreak, Texas Lawmakers Want to Make it Even Easier to Opt Out of Vaccines

A new bill would ban the Texas health department from tracking vaccine exemptions — a move medical experts say would curb their ability to identify outbreaks.

Bill Zedler
State Representative Bill Zedler, R-Arlington  PATRICK MICHELS

Texas state Representative Bill Zedler doesn’t understand the fuss over the resurgence of infectious diseases. “When I grew up, I had a lot of these illnesses,” he said, listing measles, mumps and chickenpox. “They wanted me to stay at home. But as far as being sick in bed, it wasn’t anything like that,” said Zedler, an outspoken anti-vaxxer and longtime member of the House Public Health Committee who has worked in the health-care industry. The only lawmaker with an A++ rating from Texans for Vaccine Choice, he was born in 1943, two decades before the measles vaccine was developed. During Zedler’s childhood, about 450 people died of measles each year in the United States, 48,000 were hospitalized and a few million more got the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 virtually eliminated measles in the United States by 2000.

“They want to say people are dying of measles. Yeah, in third-world countries they’re dying of measles,” Zedler said, shaking his head. “Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.” Zedler says he’s adamantly in favor of “freedom of conscience” and against mandatory vaccination. “This is not the Soviet Union, you know.”

Health officials blame the recent uptick in highly contagious diseases on a growing anti-vaxxer movement and the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines. (The anti-vaxxer wife of the White House communications director this month tweeted “Bring back our #ChildhoodDiseases they keep you healthy & fight cancer.”)

Texas has had eight confirmed cases of measles so far this year, and in 2017, mumps cases reached a 20-year high. Yet now Zedler and other anti-vaccine lawmakers want to make it even easier to opt out of childhood vaccinations, and they’re trying to keep the public from accessing information about exemption rates.

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