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By W. Gardner Selby February 12, 2015

Rick Perry says Texas vaccination rate rose from 65 percent to 95 percent on his watch as governor

Rick Perry, saying parents should get their children vaccinated, went on to say his home state greatly stepped up vaccinations in his 14 years as Texas governor.

In a Feb. 5, 2015, interview with The Washington Post and Texas Tribune, Perry said national and state leaders should use their power to encourage the childhood shots. "I think governors, elected officials, people in positions of authority and power and influence, should use those positions to make sure that the people they either represent or have the opportunity to work for are as healthy as they can be," Perry said. "Obviously vaccines are a very important part of that."

In the interview, Perry also said that when he came into office, "our vaccination rate in Texas was 65 percent. When I left two weeks ago, it was 95 percent."

He continued, according to video placed online by the Tribune: "We know that vaccines — science backs it up every day — that vaccines are a very very important tool to keep our citizens safe."

The next morning, the Post’s Fact Checker gave Perry three Pinnochios for those declared percentages, saying that according to federal data, nearly 64 percent of preschool children in Texas obtained all recommended vaccinations in 2000, the year Perry became governor, and about 73 percent of such children did so in 2013, his second-to-last year in office. Also, the story said, the latter rate was a decrease from 2007. (A Perry spokesman later told the Tribune Perry had used "incomplete numbers.")

State-provided charts

For our own review, we asked Perry how he reached his figures and we turned to the Texas Department of State Health Services, whose spokeswoman, Carrie Williams, emailed us a couple charts indicating the state’s vaccination rates over the years.

In 2000, one chart says, 69.5 percent of Texas children aged 19 months through 35 months had received recommended shots against diptheria/tetanus/pertussis, polio and measles, mumps and rubella, in accordance with state law. In 2013, the latest year on the chart, 80.1 percent of children in the age range had received those shots.

On Perry’s watch, according to the chart, year-by-year shot rates for preschoolers ranged from a low of 71.3 percent in 2002 to a high of 81.7 percent in 2010.

One takeaway: The share of Texas preschool toddlers getting basic shots was up about 10 percentage points toward the end of Perry’s time as governor.

Perry's '95 percent' backup

So, how did Perry arrive at his statement that 95 percent of Texas children were immunized?

Perry spokesman Travis Considine offered as backup for this part of Perry’s statement an October 2014 CDC press release stating that in the 2013-14 school year, 97 percent or more of Texas children enrolled in kindergarten had gotten required-for-enrollment shots for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); diptheria and tetanus toxoids as well as acellular pertussis (DTaP); and varicella. Another chart in the release indicates 7,803 children were exempted from getting all the shots, amounting to 2 percent of all the kindergartners.

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Then again, the statistic for kindergartners getting shots is a different measure than the statistic for toddler immunizations. Indeed, the second State Health Services chart shows that nearly all the state’s kindergartners got fully vaccinated in all the years Perry was governor--and nearly all students had done so for years before.

In 2000, Texas children in kindergarten had vaccination rates for different shots ranging from 95 percent to 99 percent, according to the chart. In 2013, the last year on the chart, kindergartners had vaccination rates of 97.2 percent to 98.1 percent depending on the shot being gauged. Shot rates for kindergartners were in the high 90s since the earliest year on the chart, 1993.

We figure those particular rates have remained high because the shots are required by law before a student enters public school, as a state handout makes clear.

A wrinkle: Parents may seek to exempt their children from the required shots for "medical contraindications" and "reasons of conscience, including a religious belief," according to state regulations. To claim an exemption due to reasons of conscience, a student's parent or legal guardian must submit a State Health Services affidavit to the child's school; it’s valid for two years, the agency says. In 2013-14, 0.76 percent of children received conscientious exemptions, according to an agency chart.

We forwarded what State Health Services gave us to Considine and didn’t hear back.

Finally, for scientific perspective we reached Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. By phone, Troisi looked over CDC figures and the charts we fielded from the state. She said the contrast between young preschoolers' vaccination rates in 2013 to rates in 2000 reflected a  "statistically significant" improvement.

As governor, Troisi said, Perry had some oversight of State Health Services. But she said she also credits the federal government, through the CDC, for improved immunization rates; federal aid helps low-income residents get shots, she said.

Our ruling

Perry said: "When I came into office, our vaccination rate in Texas was 65 percent. When I left two weeks ago, it was 95 percent."

These percentages trace to reported immunization rates for different populations of youngsters. And by inappropriately pairing the figures, Perry left the incorrect impression of great progress on his watch when there actually was less dramatic improvement--with kindergartners almost uniformly getting all their shots, as required by law, as they did before his reign.

With all this in mind, we rate the statement False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

UPDATE, 3:48 p.m., Feb. 12, 2015: After this story published, a reader prompted us to notice that a Perry spokesman had told the Texas Tribune the ex-governor used "incomplete numbers." We amended our fact check to note that. This did not affect our rating of what he said.

Our Sources

News stories, "Rick Perry: My experience as Texas governor sets me apart in GOP field," The Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2015; "Fact Checker: Rick Perry’s claim that he boosted the Texas vaccination rate by nearly 50 percent," The Post, Feb. 6, 2015

Document, 2014-15 Texas Minimum State Vaccine Requirements for Students Grades K-12, Texas Department of State Health Services, as revised April 4, 2014 (downloaded Feb. 9, 2015)

Document, "Relating to increasing the immunization rates for children in Texas," executive order issued by Gov. Rick Perry, July 31, 2003 (cached copy accessed Feb. 5, 2015)

Email including charts showing immunization rates for Texas toddlers and kindergartners, Carrie Williams, director of media relations, Texas Department of State Health Services, Feb. 5, 2014

Telephone interview, Catherine Troisi, associate professor of epidemiology, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health, Houston, Feb. 9, 2015

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Rick Perry says Texas vaccination rate rose from 65 percent to 95 percent on his watch as governor

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