Regular readers of Our Perspective know that we have frequently editorialized about the importance of vaccinating your children, that it’s dangerous for parents sending their children to any school, public or private, to presume that they know more about vaccinations than a pediatrician.
Asheville Waldorf School in Asheville, N.C., is the latest locale to prompt us to make this argument again.
Chickenpox has taken hold of a school in North Carolina where many families claim religious exemption from vaccines.
Cases of chickenpox have been multiplying at the Asheville Waldorf School, which serves children from nursery school to sixth grade in Asheville, N.C. About a dozen infections grew to 28 at the beginning of the month. By Friday, there were 36, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
The outbreak ranks as the state’s worst since the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995. Since then, the two-dose course has succeeded in limiting the highly contagious disease that once affected 90 percent of Americans — a public health breakthrough.
The school is a symbol of a 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,” Buncombe County medical director Jennifer Mullendore said in a news release.
Chickenpox is serious, warns the CDC, “even life-threatening, especially in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.”
A person can spread the disease one to two days before the rash appears, increasing the risk of broad transmission of the virus before it is detected.
The virus used to crop up in about 4 million cases annually in the United States, causing more than 10,000 hospitalizations and between 100 and 150 deaths. Children were especially susceptible, as schools seemed to incubate the blisterlike rash, which appears first on the stomach, back and face and can extend over the entire surface of the body, creating as many as 500 itchy blisters.
The vaccine, which the CDC says is about 90 percent effective, hasn’t eliminated the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. But since the regimen became commercially available, it has reduced the number of cases, as well as their severity. A 14-year prospective study published in Pediatrics in 2013 found that the incidence of infection was nine to 10 times lower than in the pre-vaccine era.
And yet, Asheville Waldorf has one of the highest religious vaccination exemption rates in the state, according to data maintained by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the Washington Post reported.
The private school has a higher rate of exemption on religious grounds than all but two other North Carolina schools, the Citizen-Times reported. During the 2017-18 school year, 19 of 28 kindergartners were exempt from at least one vaccine required by the state. Of the school’s 152 students, 110 had not received the chickenpox vaccine, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, Buncombe 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.
Here’s what else happens: Quarantine.
The outbreak prompted Buncombe County health officials in early November to call for the quarantine of 104 of school’s 152 students, the Citizen-Times reported. Nearly 75 percent hadn’t been vaccinated for the virus.
That order expired Tuesday. Buncombe health officials will continue to monitor conditions when students return from Thanksgiving break next week.
In a Nov. 1 order sent to the parents of unvaccinated children, Buncombe County Health Director Jannine Shaphard wrote that “the intent of this quarantine is to decrease the risk of transmission of the illness and protect the health of non-immune students, staff and community members.”
Asheville attorney Lakota Denton said Tuesday the quarantine violated the civil liberties of the children — two of whom he represents.
Well, Mr. Denton, do you know what else could violate the civil liberties of those children? Death from a disease preventable by vaccination.
When it comes to vaccinations, don’t take advice from anyone who isn’t a pediatrician.
Vaccinate your children. Consider it an act of compassion for the many children who need community immunity because their immune systems are not working.