Disease knows no political party

Photo by Courtesy University of Texas System Office of Health Affairs

Vaccines are victims of their own success. We rarely see polio, unlike our grandparents who feared the disease. Children seldom miss school because of mumps or measles.

Vaccines have worked so well to prevent disease that most of us have never even seen those diseases, let alone suffering from them. If you have never known someone with polio, you have less reason to fear the death and paralysis it can cause.

Vaccines are an incredible success story. Thousands of scientists, doctors, Rotarians and ordinary people are the story’s heroes. Vaccines are a grand-slam bargain for state budgets and public health. The small upfront investment in immunizations saves billions of dollars in reduced health care costs in both the short and the long term.

Amazingly, the benefits of immunizations have come into question in recent months. The Texas Republican Party platform ratified at this summer’s state convention questioned the wisdom of “CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]-recommended vaccinations.” Antivaccine candidates appeared in primary races across the state, though only a very small percentage advanced.

According to data just released by the Texas Department of State Health Services, requests for nonmedical exemptions from public school vaccine requirements are rising. More parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids just as antivaccine advocates are working to make it easier to get an exemption. Some parents have a philosophical opposition to vaccines and will request an exemption. Let’s be honest: Parents have busy personal and work lives, and getting your kids all of their shots can be a challenge. Exemption is an easy way out.

The Texas Public Health Coalition represents more than 30 professional and health-focused organizations dedicated to disease prevention and health promotion (The Texas Medical Association is a charter member). We know immunization traditionally has been a bipartisan issue. Regardless of party affiliation, vaccines are universally seen as valuable to public health. However, recent events, like antivaccine legislation sponsored by Republicans in the Republican-dominated state Legislature, led us to seek insight into Republican primary voters’ attitudes about vaccines.

Public health professionals and the foundations that support them want to know what happened. Have Texas voters somehow changed their beliefs about vaccines? Have Texans forgotten about the positive effects of immunizations for each of us and for Texas? We enlisted a polling firm to help us understand what Republican primary voters really thought about this issue. The results were clear and quite positive:

  • 86 percent of Texas Republican primary voters support laws requiring vaccines for public school students.
  • 68 percent are opposed to making it easier to send children to school without vaccines.
  • 79 percent think it should be easy to find out the vaccination rates at public schools.

A large majority of Texas Republican primary voters also believes that government has a role in protecting the public health through vaccines. Nearly half of those we polled even stated they will not support their legislator if that lawmaker opposed school vaccination requirements.

It was reassuring to see such strong support for vaccines among Texas Republicans. It matches what we’ve seen historically among Democrats and proves that vaccines are a nonpartisan issue. Both parties have long supported vaccines, and in recent sessions of the Texas Legislature, more Republicans have passed pro-vaccine bills than Democrats. Disease knows no party, and most voters want vaccine protection for public safety.

As Texas approaches the 2019 legislative session, more antivaccine bills will be proposed. Those bills will put Texans at risk for diseases that are preventable and put our state budget at risk for paying for preventable disease outbreaks.

Texas Republican primary voters have a clear message for policymakers: They support vaccines and the power to prevent disease before it starts. Just like most Texans — regardless of political belief — they believe in vaccines.

The Texas Medical Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

G. Ray Callas

Physician, trustee at Texas Medical Association