Former Texas governor Rick Perry talks with PostTV about his 2016 strategy, the ongoing controversy over vaccinations, and what he thinks the U.S. needs to do in the fight against the Islamic State. (Pamela Kirkland and Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

“Our vaccination rate in Texas [in 2000] was 65 percent. When I left two weeks ago, it was 95 percent.”

— Former Texas governor Rick Perry (R), in an interview with The Washington Post and the Texas Tribune, Feb. 5, 2015

This was an impressive boast made by the former governor and 2016 presidential aspirant — that during his term as governor from 2000 to 2015, he managed to boost the vaccination rate by nearly 50 percent.

Our antennae went up. Is this even remotely possible?

The Facts

A quick search on the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists annual vaccination rates for every state, found little basis for Perry’s assertion. So we asked Perry spokesman Travis Considine for the evidence.

He quickly provided two documents. One was a 2008 news release from the Texas Health Department, stating the immunization rate for children under age 3 was 65 percent in 2002 and had climbed to 77.3 percent in 2007. The other was 2014 CDC news release showing the vaccination rate for kindergartners in Texas was over 97 percent.

In other words, he was selling apples and oranges. There’s a huge difference between counting the rate for those under 36 months and counting the rate for children going into kindergarten. This was quickly discovered by digging into the CDC document and finding the data for Texas children between the ages of 19 and 35 months.

“You are absolutely right about that,” said Anna C. Dragsbaek, president of The Immunization Partnership, a Texas-based nonprofit that aims to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases. “Kindergarten immunization rates are not what the CDC or what public health experts look at. It’s the younger kids who really need the shots.”

The comparisons are slightly complicated by the fact that since 2000, the recommended menu of shots has increased.

The gold standard in 2000 was “4:3:1:3:3,” which means 4+ doses of pertussis-containing vaccine; 3+ doses of polio vaccine; 1+ dose(s) measles-containing vaccine; 3+ doses of Hib vaccine and 3+ doses of hepatitis B vaccine.

But in 2013 (the most recent year with data), the recommended schedule is “4:3:1:4:3:1:4.”  That translates to 4+ doses of pertussis-containing vaccine; 3+ doses of polio vaccine; 1+ dose(s) of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine; the full series of Hib vaccine (3+ or 4+ doses depending on product type received); 3+ doses of hepatitis B vaccine; 1+ dose(s) of Varicella vaccine and 4+ doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

So, for ages 19 to 35 months, the comparison of the vaccination rate in Texas for the recommended schedule in each year is:

2000: 63.5 percent

2013: 72.5 percent.

Even if you just compared the same “4:3:1:3:3” series in each year, the Texas vaccination rate would just be 76.4 percent in 2013. In other words, no matter how you slice it, the rate has actually declined since 2007.

Considine did not respond to further queries. (Update: After this fact check appeared, Consideine acknowledged the error to The Texas Tribune: “We cited incomplete numbers.”)

Yet, ironically, Dragsbaek said that Perry had an excellent record on promoting vaccination. In 2003 he signed a bill that made it easier for parents to cite philosophical objections to giving children vaccines, but even so, “my experience has been that Governor Perry was a fairly strong pro-vaccine governor,” she said.

The Pinocchio Test

Perry apparently had little reason to inflate his record on vaccinations, but he did so anyway. The vaccination rate went up about 14 percent, not 50 percent, and it stalled in the last half of his tenure of governor. This doesn’t quite rise to Four Pinocchios, but it’s close.

Three Pinocchios

 


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