Fort Worth, Texas,
15:34 PM

'I'm Worried Too'

Pediatricians Concerned As Texas' Nonmedical Vaccine Exemption Rates Hit All-Time High

“Is it safe to go to the park?” “Can we go to the mall?”

Alice Phillips, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician in Fort Worth – Cityview, hears the worry in the voices of many of her patient families. They’re afraid their child may contract measles or some other contagious disease.

“I like to reassure them,” Dr. Phillips said. “And currently, I can say there is no indication of a major outbreak threatening the health of their children in our area. But I understand their apprehension and I admit I’m worried too.”

Measles cases have hit a 25-year high in the United States, and Texas already has reported 15 confirmed cases of measles in 2019, six more than in all of 2018.

And yet as the number of cases have gone up, Texas vaccine exemption rates have reached an all-time high. According to a report in the Texas Tribune, “the number of individuals who have had at least one vaccine exemption affidavit requested on their behalf has grown more than tenfold, to more than 70,000 in the 2018 fiscal year.”

Texas is one of 16 states to provide vaccine exemptions for conscientious, philosophical and/or religious beliefs. In our state, kindergartners must have 10 immunizations to be enrolled in school. The Tribune found that since 2006, when Texas first started reporting data, the exemption rate for kindergartners has risen from 0.3% for the 2005-2006 school year to 2.15% for the 2018-2019 year.

“I’m very concerned by these numbers,” Dr. Phillips said. “I truly believe vaccinations are the greatest public health advancement seen in my lifetime. This trend toward opting out of vaccines threatens the health of all of our children.”

The Texas Tribune article allows readers to type in their school district and see the vaccine exemption rates for kindergartners, those who aren’t receiving vaccines by claiming a conscientious exemption (along with citing medical or religious concerns). The story mentions that Alliance Christian Academy had the second highest vaccine exemption rate by percentage in the state last year with 40.6% of their students (13 of their 32 kids).

In Fort Worth ISD, 1.39% of kindergartners (84 of 6,031) received non-medical vaccine exemptions. Dr. Phillips knows that some will say that’s only 84 kids in Fort Worth or 13 at Alliance Christian, but those numbers add up.

“You may say only 2% of the population isn’t vaccinated, but that 2% is often times happening in clusters,” Dr. Phillips said. “We have seen those areas with clusters of a population are where we are especially primed and ready for an outbreak. That’s what we’ve seen recently in New York City. There was a cluster of people who didn’t vaccinate. I worry that’s what we are at risk for in Texas.”

Dr. Phillips hopes healthy people who can receive immunizations take that responsibility seriously. Community-wide protection depends upon a high percentage of the entire population receiving vaccines in order to protect children who are immune compromised and or can’t receive vaccines for health reasons.

“Those children rely on us to protect them,” she said. “They can’t have the vaccine, so they rely on the rest of us to stand up and protect them and keep these illnesses from them. That’s the herd immunity. That’s simply not happening as much as it should in this country. The measles cases in this country are startlingly high.”

With so much misinformation on the Internet or even among their friends, Dr. Phillips welcomes a conversation with her patient families. She said her job is to listen to concerned parents in a respectful way to try to provide facts and calm their fears.

“I try to answer them with what my experiences as a practitioner have been. I tell them not only what I’ve seen as a physician and explain all the science supporting immunization, but what I’ve done as a mom. My children are vaccinated. I believe in vaccines. Many times, a parent just needs kindness, compassion and assurance that they are making the right decision for their child. I truly want them to know that receiving a vaccine is the right decision for your child.”

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Get to know Alice Phillips, M.D.

Doctor Phillips earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A & M University. After completing medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas, she completed her Pediatric Residency at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. She and her family relocated to Fort Worth in 1996 when she joined Cook Children's Physician Network at the Cityview Office. With two teenagers, one at home and one in college, life can be hectic but Dr Phillips has a passion for serving at-need Fort Worth Children. Serving the children of Fort Worth does not end at the end of the work day. She currently serves as the Founding Director for a Big Brother's Big Sisters, Big Hope Student Mentoring program through her church. This program matches at risk kids at FWISD's Rosemont Elementary School with mentors. She has served as a mentor for one such student at the school for the past 2 years. In addition to this she supports back to school uniform drives and Christmas projects to provide Christmas presents for over 500 FWISD Students.

To continue in her pursuits of helping at risk children, Dr Phillips is currently working towards her Masters in Public Health at University of North Texas Health Science Center.

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Terri Andrews
Thank you for your attention to this dangerous growing trend in Texas. Pockets of unvaccinated children pose a real danger to our communities and schools. Outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases will continue to grow unless exemptions rates fall.