In a recent column released by the Glen Rose Reporter, Taylor Sexton, a North Texas infectious disease epidemiologist, said the number of parents exempting their children from vaccinations has increased over the past five years.

However, Stephenville ISD has remained below the state average in school-aged children who are exempt from vaccinations.

“Obviously I support the program that requires immunizations. I immunize my children, but I do understand that people have a right to defer them,” SISD Superintendent Matt Underwood said. “I’m sure they all have reasons they believe for not getting them, but I support immunizations from a school district standpoint.”

According to an article released by the Texas Tribune in July 44,716 students in the state are exempt from vaccinations, which is 0.84 percent. Stephenville was below that percentage for the 2015-16 school year at 0.76 percent (27 students).

Some parents have expressed concerns that vaccinations can lead to serious and sometimes fatal side effects.

“Some make this decision based on a paper published in 1998 relating autism to the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR),” Sexton said. “However, soon after publication, this paper was not only disproved, but the author was found to have acted dishonestly and irresponsibly and was found to have manipulated evidence; as a result, his privileges to practice medicine were removed.”

Vaccines are continually monitored for safety, and like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects.

“There is an overwhelming amount of research proving that our current vaccines and the vaccine schedule required are safe and effective,” Sexton said. “Those that choose not to vaccinate due to non-medical reasons put not only their children, but other children and all of the community at risk.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services says students are required to be vaccinated against tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis A and B, varicella and more (a full list can be found on the TDSHS website). The age in which the student must receive the required vaccination varies.

Though immunizations are required, the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) 97.62 describes certain conditions in which students can be exempt, including medical reasons and for reasons of conscience.

The student must acquire a signed and dated exemption statement from a properly licensed physician in good standing who has examined the student and present it to the school.

The information must state that in the physician’s opinion, the vaccine required poses a risk to the health and well-being of the student.

Another exemption is for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs, in which a signed and notarized affidavit stating that the parent, legal guardian or the student (18 or older) declines vaccination for reasons of conscience, including because of the person’s religious beliefs.

With Stephenville’s low percentage of students who are exempt, it is likely that the district will still maintain herd immunity.

“Often the parents who choose not to vaccinate justify this decision by stating, ‘If your child is vaccinated, then why does it matter if mine is not?’ This is explained by a simple public health principle called herd immunity,” Sexton said. “If a large majority of the herd is vaccinated, it protects the others, especially those who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons and those who have weakened immune systems.”