Education

Buncombe County school that’s a leader in vaccine-exemptions now dealing with chickenpox outbreak

The Asheville Waldorf School, which has one of the highest religious exemption rates for vaccinations in the state, is now coping with a chickenpox outbreak. The school that serves kindergarten through 6th grade students has 36 students who have contracted the illness, the worst outbreak in 20 years.

According to the Asheville Citizen Times, 110 of the schools 152 students had not received the chickenpox vaccine, making spread of the disease more likely.

“The thing people need to understand is that when you have pockets of unvaccinated people, they serve as reservoirs for disease,” said Susan Sullivan, a nurse with the state DHHS who consults with local health departments about vaccines and preventable diseases

The Washington Post picked up the story this morning and reports that Buncombe County Health officials are imploring parents that the best protection from spreading the disease is for parents to have their children vaccinated.

Sadly not everyone is heeding that advice.

Here’s more from Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker:

The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community — into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams,” she said in a news release.

But not all parents seemed to grasp the gravity of the outbreak. Nor does everyone see the rationale behind vaccines, which some believe — contrary to scientific evidence — cause more severe health issues than they’re meant to cure. The claim of an autism risk, though it has been debunked, has remained a rallying cry of the anti-vaccine movement.

Recent efforts to tighten the rules have foundered. In 2015, state legislators withdrew a bill that would have all but eliminated the religious exemption after their efforts were met with strident protest. Protesters picketed the state’s General Assembly in Raleigh, warning of “Medical Terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the county’s medical director has been exhorting residents to immunize their children. “What happens when we lack community immunity? Measles is what happens,” Mullendore this fall told commissioners of the county, which had the highest rate of religious exemptions last year.

The friction between medical experts and the residents in their care is not unique to Buncombe County, where the parents of 5.7 percent of kindergartners claimed a religious exemption, or even to North Carolina, where the rate was 1.2 percent.

Forty-seven states allow religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. CDC data shows that the median percentage of kindergartners not receiving one or more required vaccine was highest in Oregon.

Read the rest of the article in the Washington Post. For complete local coverage, check out the story in the Citizen-Times.

The Asheville Waldorf School makes no mention of the chickenpox cases on its website or Facebook page.

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