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Amid a time of national controversy over whether government officials can force vaccines and other health mandates on citizens and children, Texan Jackie Schlegel has long been on the front lines of protecting parental rights.

After leaving Pennsylvania for Texas almost 14 years ago, Jackie was busy raising her three kids. She never intended to be involved in politics—until she saw state lawmakers trying to enact a “very problematic” law.

“Back in 2015, there was a bill filed by then-State Rep. Jason Villalba that would’ve taken away a parent’s right to send their children to public school if their kids were not up to date with any and all vaccines on the schedule,” Jackie said. “This was very problematic for me because not only did I have a child who was profoundly disabled by her vaccine, I had two children who were going to public school who relied on the public school system for their education, and there was just no way I could just let this happen.”

That’s when Jackie started a Facebook group called Texans for Vaccine Choice.

“I had zero idea of anything political, I just knew we needed to do something to stop this bill,” she said. “And within three weeks, we found ourselves at the capitol, walking the halls and talking about this issue. That’s when I launched into the political world.”

Jackie and her group of about 20 parents helped to defeat the bill.

“Not only did we kill that bill, but we actually stopped 16 other vaccine choice-related bills that legislative session, ‘vaccine choice’ meaning they were all bills aimed at stripping away our rights to informed consent, medical privacy, and vaccine choice.”

Jackie added that during that time she also got to see firsthand which state lawmakers were actually working for the citizens they claimed to represent.

“We got a very big wakeup call that legislative session as far as who was actually fighting for families and who was not,” she said. “I think it not only blew my mind, it just changed the perception of a lot of families in my community as far as who’s fighting for who in Austin.”

After the 2015 fights ended, Jackie was encouraged by conservative State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford) to start a formal organization and political action committee for the vaccine choice issue.

“From that time, we knew the issue wasn’t going away, and we knew we needed one organization that was focused solely on this issue because nobody was really doing just that,” Jackie said, adding she also heard from a lot of people concerned with the use of aborted baby cells in the development of vaccines.

“Since then, we’ve gone from literally a group of 20 or so parents to now 60,000 members who call themselves Texans for Vaccine Choice.”

Jackie and her amassed army of citizens have helped defend against numerous vaccine choice-related laws proposed in the state capitol.

“We’ve stopped over 30 bills over the years,” she said. “I think stopping the bad legislation is probably the most important thing we’ve done.”

They also played a large part in unseating Rep. Villalba in 2018, because Jackie said his original forced-vaccines bill, the one that spurred Jackie to action, would lead to the opposite of what he claimed to support.

“You’re a Republican. Your party platform states that vaccine choice is a right that Texans stand for,” she said.

Now, during the coronavirus situation, Jackie says more people than ever are paying attention to potential vaccine mandates.

“Over the last five years, we struggled to overcome the censorship and get our message out there, because the truth is the pharmaceutical industry has done an incredible job pushing this false narrative that vaccines are good for all people all the time, that [there are] no consequences to the vaccines, and that if you don’t take your vaccines, you’re a bad neighbor and just don’t care about society,” Jackie explained.

“But since COVID happened … our phones are ringing off the hook from individuals who never thought about this issue, but are saying there’s no way they’re taking this fast-tracked, rushed vaccine that very well could be mandated. What do we do to stop it?”

Jackie said she’s been frustrated with Gov. Greg Abbott during the pandemic for the mandates he’s already decreed and the one’s he’s now discussing forcing on citizens. Two mandates she mentioned specifically were the debilitating six-month-long restrictions on citizens in assisted living facilities and withholding medical treatment unless individuals agreed to be either COVID tested or contact traced. Jackie said that “if we continue down this very dangerous path,” it’s “only a matter of time before they add the vaccine to that requirement.”

“It’s incredibly dangerous, unethical, immoral, and I don’t feel like we’re giving it enough attention,” she said. “We now have Gov. Abbott broadcasting that everybody needs to get a flu vaccine. We never, ever heard him take a stand on the flu vaccine—why is he doing it this year?”

What can citizens do about this or any issue? Jackie said the first thing is to actually step back, calm down, and remember that your neighbors aren’t the enemy.

“We have allowed industries and politics to make us lose sight of the human aspect inside our communities,” she said.

Jackie added the importance of reaching out to local elected officials.

“You need to let them know that no matter how they feel about the COVID response, we need to drive personal responsibility, and [lawmakers] need to open up their offices and the legislature and allow the citizens their rightful place in the process.”