School districts in Angelina County and across the state have seen an increase in the number of students with exemptions to vaccines, according to data collected by the Texas Department of State Health Services and compiled by the Texas Tribune.

Texas allows parents to file for an exemption from vaccines for “reasons of conscience.” As a result, the number of nonmedical vaccine exemptions in kindergarteners has increased from 0.5% to 2.15% since 2005, according to the Tribune.

That’s a trend that is both frustrating and frightening, especially because the exemption form submitted to the state does not require a doctor’s signature.

■ Lufkin ISD went from 0.6% to 1.47% in 2018 with 545 kindergarteners enrolled and eight kindergarteners with exemptions.

■ Hudson ISD went from 0% in 2005 to 1.48% in 2018 with 203 kindergarteners enrolled and three kindergarteners with exemptions.

■ Huntingon ISD went from 0.9% to 2.46% in 2018 with 122 kindergarteners enrolled and three kindergarteners with exemptions.

■ Central ISD went from 0% in 2005 to 1.83% in 2018 with 109 kindergarteners enrolled and two kindergarteners with exemptions.

■ Diboll ISD went from 0% in 2005 to 1.63% in 2018 with 123 kindergarteners enrolled and two kindergarteners with exemptions.

■ Data from the Zavalla and Wells school districts was not listed.

The Tribune reported that there were multiple reasons for the data to be incomplete. While school districts are required to complete a self-reported survey every year, the state doesn’t have a way to enforce that mandate. The historical vaccine exemption rate is shown only for school districts with at least seven years of data reported to the state.

The Department of State Health Services also does not release the data on school districts or private schools with fewer than five students enrolled, and the Tribune chose not to publish vaccine exemption data reported to the state for school districts with kindergarten classes with less than 20 students.

Locally, that adds up to 18 students with exemptions out of 1,102 students.

While that doesn’t sound bad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people may escape infection thanks to what’s known as herd immunity in their communities, until someone carries a germ from somewhere else. When that happens, the virus finds fuel in those pockets of unvaccinated people.

And that’s why it’s a big deal.

Across the nation, 2019 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for measles cases in a quarter-century, with major outbreaks in Texas, New York and Washington, and new cases reported in 25 other states. In almost every reported instance, none of the victims had been vaccinated.

Still, vaccination opponents mistakenly believe the recommended number of shots for babies is too much for their bodies to handle, that vaccines infect people with the same viruses they are trying to prevent, or that the natural immunity conferred by catching a disease is better than vaccines. Some argue against vaccinations on the basis of parental rights.

The modern anti-vaccination movement was largely sparked in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor and conspiracy theorist who linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. As it turns out, Wakefield made up his data, and he was stripped of his medical license, although he still identifies himself as a doctor on social media. He now lives in Austin and remains active in the state and national anti-vaccine movement. The medical journal BMJ, one of the world’s oldest general medical journals, described Wakefield’s research as “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically.” The problem is that facts don’t matter to proponents of conspiracy theories and other fake news.

While not side effect-free, vaccines are overwhelmingly safe. And, health experts say, any vaccination risks far outstrip the consequences of contracting the viruses vaccines are meant to protect against. Vaccines are an important safety tool to protect ourselves and our families. Texas needs to stop allowing “conscientious” exemptions.