On Tuesday, the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services discussed a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to refuse service to patients based on immunization status.
If passed, Senate Bill 2351 would make doctors who refuse service based on vaccination status not eligible for state funding for services provided to patients.
“Some medical professionals refuse to treat patients in their practice based on a patient's personal decision to refuse a vaccine," said Senator Bob Hall, who authored the bill.
Doctors and vaccine advocates say this bill could be dangerous for all of their patients, especially their most vulnerable patients.
The Austin Regional Clinic - one of the largest private medical providers in Austin - has it in their policy that they don't accept patients who don't vaccinate for non-medical reasons because it puts patients who cannot vaccinate for legitimate medical reasons at risk.
ARC Pediatric Doctor Mai Duong testified against SB 2351 on Tuesday, and says on Monday, more than 30 of her 150 patients were too young to be vaccinated.
“Children who are medically vulnerable are the ones that are going to end up with severe complications, and it could be devastating," Duong said.
Rekha Lakshmanan is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for The Immunization Partnership. She was testifying in favor of pro-vaccine bills Tuesday, and says SB 2351 puts so many patients at risk, because there are many children who either have compromised immune systems or are too young, and cannot be vaccinated.
“If there is the potential of an unvaccinated child in that waiting room, then unfortunately, there is a high risk that those children who cannot be vaccinated could potentially contract those deadly diseases," Lakshmanan said.
According to the CDC, there have been 626 cases of measles in the U.S. so far this year, with 15 of those cases in Texas. This is the second-largest outbreak since the disease was eliminated in 2000.
Duong says this outbreak has been cause for concern for her most vulnerable patients.
“Measles is spread very quickly, and if you're unimmunized and unprotected, there's a chance you can pick it up in our waiting room," Duong said.
Jackie Schlegel is the Executive Director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, one of the leading anti-vaccine voices. She testified in favor of SB 2351 Tuesday morning.
“It's about access to care. These families are being pushed out of practices, and it's really causing a lot of problems," Schlegel said.
Duong says she consults with each patient on the fence about vaccines, and goes through all options. She says they never want to turn away patients, but if they continue to go on without vaccinating their children for non-medical reasons, she has to protect all of her patients.
“It was a very very difficult decision for us to make, but we felt it was the right thing to do to protect all of the children that come through all of our clinic," Duong said.
SB 2351 was left pending after Tuesday's meeting, and remains in committee.