With Measles Close, Schools See Rise in Unvaccinated Students

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As measles cases rise in nearby states, Oklahoma schools are seeing increasing percentages of kindergarteners walk into their classrooms without required immunization shots, according to survey data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Records show the percentage of kindergarteners whose families have claimed an immunization exemption under state law doubled from 0.7 percent in the 2005-2006 school year to 1.4 percent, or at least 572 students, in 2013-2014.

In Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district with nearly 45,000 students, officials say it’s a matter time before measles arrives in the district, especially with outbreaks in neighboring Kansas, Texas and Missouri earlier this year.

The district has been compiling a list of students with vaccination exemptions since March of last year and now has 142 students in all grades on the list.

“We want to know who these students are,” District Health Administrator Debbie Johnson said. “In the event we have an outbreak, which I am anticipating, we will keep these students at home.”

Tulsa Public Schools has 502 students on its exemption list and will also keep those students home should an outbreak occur, said Pam Butler, director of health services.

Both districts would coordinate their response with state and county health departments.

Oklahoma’s rate of immunization exemptions is relatively low. The state is tied for the 17th lowest exemption rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the recent increases reflect what many health experts say is a potentially dangerous and growing trend of parents refusing to vaccinate their children from illnesses such as measles, whooping cough, polio and meningitis.

As of Aug. 8, a total of 593 cases and 18 outbreaks of measles had been reported nationwide this year, according to the CDC. The number of cases is the highest since at least 2000, when the U.S. declared measles eliminated.

Communities with low immunization rates are more at risk of an outbreak.

“If more people delay or choose not to immunize, we do run a risk of an outbreak in Oklahoma,” said Lori Linstead, director of immunization services at the State Department of Health. “(Measles) is a serious disease that spreads like wildfire.”

There has been controversy over districts requiring unvaccinated students to stay home from school during an outbreak.

In June, a federal judge upheld a stay-home policy at New York City Public Schools during a measles outbreak. Parents of children forced to stay home claimed the district and state violated their constitutional rights to religious protection, equal protection under the law, and due process.

The anti-vaccination movement has expanded in recent years, leading to the reemergence of diseases once thought eradicated from the United States.

Tracey McLaughlin

Tracey McLaughlin

Tracey McLaughlin, a naturopathic doctor in Oklahoma City, said she agrees with keeping unimmunized children out of school in the event of an outbreak, but said vaccinations are not the only way to protect from disease.

McLaughlin, who did not immunize her son as a child and said her granddaughter also will likely not be immunized, said she pushes patients to adopt healthy diet and exercise routine to boost their immune system.

McLaughlin, who does not offer immunizations, also urges parents to do their research before deciding whether to vaccinate their children.

“I think if you eat healthy and exercise regularly, you should be immune to anything,” she said. “But not everybody does what they are supposed to do.”

State and district health officials are quick to say the best protection against diseases such as measles and polio is to get vaccinated.

Oklahoma law requires students to have certain immunizations before going to school, whether it’s public, private or home school. Immunizations include tetanus, diphtheria, polio and measles, among others.

Oklahoma does grant immunization exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs or philosophical reasons. It is one of 19 states that allow the philosophical exemption.

In 2012-2013, 73 percent of the state’s exemptions were for philosophical reasons, according to the CDC. More recent data is not available yet.

Many philosophical exemptions come from people who fear immunizations cause adverse side effects such as autism, said Linstead, state immunization director.

Those fears continue to spread despite scientific research finding no correlation.

“The Internet is a great thing, but so much information on vaccines out there is wrong,” Linstead said. “I encourage people to do their research, to go to a reputable source.”

In Tulsa, Butler said Tulsa Public Schools does not track which kind of exemptions students have.

“It doesn’t matter to us,” she said of the types of exemptions. “All we need to have is that one student who is exempt get sick. But we do have the capacity to pull up all exempt students by school site.”
Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org

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  • Wayne Rohde

    The rise in vaccine exemptions is based upon parent concerns about the adverse events or reactions of vaccines. And they should be. The tired and boring often used phrasing that there is a lot of information on the internet. That is true. And there is a lot of credible science available to parents, so now doctors who receive very little training on vaccine injury, feel very uncomfortable. So they demonize the parents that might know more than they do. With the dramatic rise in severe food allergies, autoimmune disorders, asthma, and other disorders that run parallel to the rise in vaccinations, it is not a coincidence. Many parents now know other families that have to deal with vaccine injury on a daily basis. And stop using the damn polio vaccine in the story. If the medical establishment would only examine the history of polio and see what is happening today in 3rd world countries that are pushing the polio vaccine, they see that the vaccine might be the cause of many cases.

    • melinda mueller

      Outstanding analysis. Thank you. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • This story would do well to point out that Tracey McLaughlin does not hold an M.D. or D.O. and thus is not a licensed, regulated physician. Instead of portraying her as a fringe quack and a part of the problem, this story quotes her almost as a medical expert. Sometimes there are not two sides to a story, and this one does nobody any favors by quoting a person purporting to be a doctor without explaining her lack of credentials.

  • Dorit Reiss

    It’s unfortunate that some parents are so deterred by anti-vaccine misinformation that they will not protect their children against preventable disease. The price can be very high.

    The scientific consensus that serious harms from modern vaccines are very, very rare is based on thousands of studies from all over the world, by different actors and teams. Here is a very recent overview: Margaret A. Maglione, et al., Safety of Vaccines Used for Routine Immunization of US Children: A Systematic Review, 2014-1079 PEDIATRICS (2014).

    The evidence is also very clear that vaccines do not cause autism, allergies, or autoimmune disorder, and studies show that vaccines are correlated with lower rates of SIDS. So not vaccinating will not protect a child against any of those conditions. It will just leave her at risk of preventable diseases. Lose, lose.

    It’s crucial for parents to get their information from credible sources. Some parents seem to be misled by people like the naturopath in this story, which I agree, should not be presented as a doctor. Others by incorrect information on misleading anti-vaccine sites. And the price of that misinformation is paid first and foremost by the children left unvaccinated, but also by others they might infect. Tragic.

  • Julia Burns

    I’m amazed that children are allowed to enter into our public schools without having all of their needed immunizations. When my children were of school age that was a requirement and we nearly wiped out those illnesses in this country.
    I was appalled at the suggestion by that “expert’ who was sited as saying that polio vaccinations may have contributed to occurances of the disease. It is dangerous to repeat ignorant remarks like that, that some fool might believe. I grew up during the time when lives were nearly destroyed by polio, which STOPPED when the vaccines became available and were requied.
    It’s really a disappointment for Oklahoma Watch to lend any credibility at all to these ridiculous ideas.

    • melinda mueller

      I am sorry that you have such a low opinion of parents.

      And if you knew anything about the Cutter incident, you would know that many of the first polio cases were caused by the vaccine. There is a whole history about the polio vaccine that is rarely told. If the Salk vaccine worked so well, why did Sabin continue his research and develop a second vaccine? The ONLY cause of all polio cases in the US from 1979 to 1999 was the Sabin Live Virus Oral Polio Vaccine.

  • The truth is that both measles and pertussis vaccines are largely failing to control these outbreaks. That is happening regardless of the rate of vaccination, ans even when that rate is high. When you review the independent information you find a largely different situation than what the CDC has told the public. You as well simply can not have 90% of the outbreak taking place in the full vaccinated, and then go onto blame the few existing, unvaccinated.

    Data Reveals Measles Outbreaks Have Nothing to Do With Non-Vaccination Trends

    Article excerpts: If the measles outbreaks in California, and particularly in and around Orange County, as well as New York City are because of non-vaccinators, then why aren’t we seeing outbreaks of everything not being vaccinated for? Why just measles and why all of a sudden, when the number of people opting out of vaccinations has actually steadily dropped in the last few years – after an initial wave of people not doing it?

    Non-vaccinators in NY are .1-1% of the population. In California we are talking 1.1-2%. Why aren’t we seeing increases in outbreaks in Vermont, Michigan and Oregon where the rate is over 6%? Correlation (or worse yet, public perception of correlation), is not causation: whether it’s vaccines and autism, or whether it’s a tiny number of people not vaccinating, and a few places having measles outbreaks.

    What does the data show on measles in the states where opting out of vaccination trends the highest? There was an instance in Oregon last year, and one this year with a 6% rate of opting out in the state. A child in Washington County, Oregon who developed measles on an overseas trip and exposed hundreds of people in the Portland area. Add to that one case in Oregon this year where a child contracted measles from a vaccinated adult.

    Read more:

    The 2013 Measles Outbreak: A Failing Vaccine, Not A Failure To Vaccinate

    New York Measles Outbreak: 90% Vaccinated

    The Current Failure of Pertussis and Measles Vaccine

    The Reality Of Vaccines, Is This!