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North Carolina School With High Vaccine Opt-Out Rates Hit With Chickenpox Outbreak

In 1995, the vaccine for chickenpox became widely available, effectively halting any major outbreak of the virus for decades afterward. Now, however, with many vaccine-skeptical parents choosing not to vaccinate their children based on pseudo-scientific studies that have been many times disproven, children in the U.S. are experiencing an uptick in vulnerability to many diseases that we defeated decades ago.

For instance, 36 students at Asheville Waldorf School in Asheville, North Carolina, have contracted the malady, making this the state’s worst chickenpox outbreak since 1995. The school is located in Buncombe County, considered an “anti-vaxxer hot spot” where a large number of parents cite “religious exemptions” to get their child out of receiving vaccinations.

At Asheville Waldorf, 110 of the 152 students opted out of vaccinations. Jennifer Mullendore, the medical director of the County’s Health and Human Services, knew an outbreak like this was only a matter of time:

“The county leads the state in religious exemptions to required vaccines. We’ve talked about how we are a ticking time bomb for vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks … and this [chickenpox] outbreak shows that.”

Every state in the U.S. requires children to be vaccinated for certain diseases to gain entry to public schools and daycares. However, these requirements can be lifted for reasons medical, religious, or philosophical.

Some children have medical conditions that would make vaccination dangerous to them. Obviously, these children should not receive a vaccination but ultimately pose no threat as long as enough children in the surrounding population are still being vaccinated.

However, according to North Carolina law, if “the bona fide religious beliefs of an adult or the parent, guardian or person in loco parentis of a child are contrary to the immunization requirements,” the parent can simply send a letter to the school and send their children in without any vaccinations. Last year at Asheville Waldorf, 68% of kindergarteners opted out of one or more vaccines. This creates a dangerous vulnerability to the relevant diseases.

Chickenpox is highly contagious and, though most cases won’t cause any major problems, can result in serious complications for at-risk individuals like those who are immunocompromised, infants, and pregnant women. Some experts believe outbreaks like those in Asheville are most dangerous because the children “can spread it to siblings who are too young to be vaccinated or older relatives who are at greater risk of complications.”

Twitter was incredibly unhappy with the parents who allowed this outbreak to thrive.

Though the number of chickenpox outbreaks has been minuscule since the vaccine arrived on the scene, Mullendore notes that a community with “high rates of unvaccinated people” will always be at risk:

“We encourage everyone to get their children, and themselves, vaccinated to prevent illness and the spread of disease to others in the community who are relying on those of us who can get vaccinated to protect them.”

H/T – Buzzfeed, NPR

Written by Collin Gossel

Collin Gossel is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, New York, but there are nights when he looks up at the stars and wistfully thinks to himself “there’s got to be more out there…” You can catch Collin improvising new musicals every Tuesday night at the Magnet Theater’s Musical Megawatt, or follow his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @CollinGossel.--