In 2003, about 2,000 kids in Texas held exemptions allowing them to opt out of vaccinations for nonmedical reasons. Today, that number has skyrocketed to almost 45,000. The eye-popping increase has made Texas a major hub for the anti-vaccine movement.
But when it comes to vaccines, that’s only part of the reason why Texas stands out. Beyond many state residents’ erroneous belief that vaccines are linked to autism, lies a stronger — and perhaps more enduring — motivation.
For many Texans, the vaccine debate is about making sure the government doesn’t mandate parental behavior, even if said behavior puts others at risk for life-threatening diseases.
“For me personally, it has nothing to do with the science or debating the science of vaccines,” says Briscoe Cain, a Republican state representative who, despite vaccinating his kids, is a staunch supporter of the anti-vaccine movement in Texas, which is often called the “vaccine choice” movement. “In the hierarchy of rights, liberty is higher than safety and security.”
Texas’ high rate of vaccine exemptions is the source of an ongoing, and sometimes heated, debate. In the recently completed 85th Texas Legislative session, more than 20 vaccine-related bills were introduced in support of both sides of the issue.
VICE News traveled to Texas to explore the consequences of the state’s anti-vaccine movement.
This segment originally aired July 12, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.