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In the middle of massive flooding in Texas, antivaxers fear…school vaccine mandates?

Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas two weeks ago, and the recovery effort will take years. As hundreds of thousands start to try to rebuild their shattered lives and homes, antivaxers have some helpful advice on how to avoid vaccines. That’s because to antivaxers, it’s always about vaccines. Always.

I’ve frequently distinguished between those who are vaccine-averse and the true, hard core antivaxers. The vaccine-averse tend to fear vaccines because of what they’ve heard about their supposed adverse effects, while it is the hard core antivaxers who are really originating and spreading the misinformation claiming that vaccines cause autism, autoimmune diseases, chronic disease, neurologic damage, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), just to name some. There are even those who claim that shaken baby syndrome is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury. To them, it is, above all, always all about the vaccines. Always.

Even in a massive natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, which flooded southeast Texas and devastated Houston in late August.

What on earth am I referring to? Take a look at what the antivaccine group, the as-always Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) posted information that, apparently to its members, would be the most important thing to think of in the aftermath of a hurricane, Texas Parents: Know Your Vaccine Choice Rights During Hurricane Harvey Flood Emergency. You read that right. While everyone else is concerned about finding housing for hundreds of thousands of people whose homes have been destroyed or otherwise rendered uninhabitable by flooding, preventing the spread of disease, and getting relief to those affected by the hurricane and flooding over a huge swath of Texas, the NVIC is concerned about parents being able to refuse vaccines for their children and thereby leave them vulnerable to serious vaccine-preventable diseases. Get a load of how Dawn Richardson in Austin and Rebecca Rex in Houston, who co-wrote this article, frame their question:

Many parts of Texas have suffered severe flooding and damage where families within our community have had their lives drastically affected. This is just the start of a challenging journey ahead recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

If your family has been displaced and/or your property damaged and need to find new health care practitioners that will take care of your family and respect your vaccine refusal or delay decisions, we can check in with our community to find you the referrals you need where you need them. If you are reading this and have a great referral for a health care provider that is supportive of your rights to decline or delay vaccines, please let us know their names, contact information, and location so we can pass that information on to families in need.

That’s right. Their primary concern appears not to be getting shelter, food, and clean water to those who need it, but rather finding health care providers who will take care of the unvaccinated. They’re also encouraging parents to take advantage of an order by the State of Texas designed to facilitate the enrollment of children rendered homeless or otherwise displaced by Harvey in other school districts:

If you have become temporarily homeless or your school has become damaged and your child needs to re-enroll somewhere else, please know you have rights.

Students who are experiencing homelessness are to be enrolled immediately. Districts cannot require students experiencing homelessness to provide proof of residency, immunizations, birth certificates guardianship documents, or any other sort of required paperwork before enrolling. Requiring missing paperwork or any other delay to enrollment is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act.

Basically, NVIC is urging parents to take advantage of a law designed for what is normally a much smaller number of children who are homeless to be enrolled in school immediately in order to enroll their displaced children without the requirement for documentation of vaccine status. The NVIC cites a letter issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services:

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued a letter on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 regarding immunization records and enrollment of students displaced by Hurricane Harvey. As a reminder, students displaced by the hurricane are considered homeless and receive immediate enrollment even without the normally required paperwork (including immunizations). The text of the letter is as follows:

The purpose of this letter is to remind school districts of the current immunization rules that affect students displaced by Hurricane Harvey and to provide information on how schools can obtain immunization histories for transfer students.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) rules relating to immunization requirements for school entry allow a student transferring from one Texas school to another to be provisionally enrolled without proof of required immunizations for up to 30 days. (Texas Administrative Code, Title 25, Part I, Chapter 97, Subchapter B, Section 97.69.) As the 30-day period draws closer to an end, if there appears to be a significant number of displaced students who are still having trouble obtaining their immunization records, DSHS will consider whether a short additional provisional enrollment period is possible.

In other words, the NVIC is encouraging parents to take advantage of the disaster to “stand up for their rights” not to vaccinate their children.

Of course, the more I read this letter, the more I wondered why on earth the NVIC is doing it. After all, as it points out in the latter part of this article, the NVIC tells parents how to obtain a personal belief exemption to school vaccine mandates, and Texas has a very easy process for claiming such an exemption. All it requires is for the parent to request an affidavit form online or by mail and to submit it to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Those of you who are regular readers also know that, if anything, Texas is politically very sympathetic to “personal rights” that allow parents to refuse vaccines. Indeed, as I’ve recorded, groups like Texans for Vaccine Choice have been very active in the state, scuttling even common-sense legislation that would have required school-level reporting of vaccine exemption rates, so that parents interested in not sending their children to a school with high exemption rates could choose. (Yes, antivaxers are incredibly hypocritical, touting they tout “transparency” and a “right to know” about fantastical imagined “vaccine injury” but denying real transparency to parents concerned about putting their children in a school where an outbreak is more likely.)

I can’t help but think that the NVIC, seeing how big a news story Harvey is, for the simple reason that it’s caused so much devastation, damaged so much of Texas, and displaced so many people, latched on to a problem that’s not really a problem (requests for vaccine “papers” by bureaucratic school officials standing in the way of homeless and displaced children being able to attend school in different school districts) and used it to encourage antivaxers to claim their “rights.”

Elsewhere, in response to questions about whether those living in flood zones ought to get a tetanus booster and a response by the CDC that it is generally not necessary (although I can’t help but point out that it’s always a good idea to stay up-to-date on your tetanus vaccine status regardless of whether you’ve been exposed to flood waters or not), another antivaxer is antivaxers plan on heading down to Houston on September 18 and 19 to protest the 20th Global Vaccine and Immunization Summit, which apparently has not been canceled, to protest—because that’s just what Houston needs. There’ll be a veritable who’s who of antivax “luminaries” there, although, oddly enough, it doesn’t look as though Andrew Wakefield will be attending.

Again, that’s because, even in a natural disaster on a massive scale, to antivaxers, it’s always about the vaccines. It has always been about the vaccines. It will always be about the vaccines.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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