A private school is dealing with its worst chickenpox outbreak in more than two decades with dozens of kids contracting the disease. Cases of chickenpox among children declined after the vaccine was made available over 20 years ago. However, the school has one of the highest religious exemption to vaccines rates in the entire state.
As of Friday, according to a report by the Citizen Times, 36 children who attend Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina are known to have fallen ill with the varicella virus, also known as the chickenpox. Based on state records, it is the largest outbreak since 1995, the year when the chickenpox vaccine became available.
Asheville Waldorf School has the third highest number of religious exemptions to vaccination requirements in North Carolina. Of the 152 students, 110 have not been vaccinated for chickenpox, and, out of a 2017-2018 kindergartener class of 28, the latest data available, 19 of the 28 students received an exemption for at least one state-required vaccine.
While the chickenpox usually only manifests as a rash that isn’t life-threatening, some cases can be serious.
“People don’t think it’s a serious disease, and for the majority of people, it’s not. But it’s not that way for everybody,” said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore of the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services. Two or three out of every 1,000 children who contract the chickenpox require care in a hospital, she added.
“To me, that’s not a mild disease, and if you’re the parent of one of those children, you probably don’t think so either.”
Medical professionals recommend that all children who are medically able should get the chickenpox vaccine.
According to information from the CDC, the chickenpox vaccine prevents over 3.5 million cases of the disease, 9,000 hospitalizations as well as 100 deaths.
Along with ensuring that the receiver of the vaccine doesn’t contract chickenpox, it also prevents its spread to individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those going through cancer treatment, as well as infants who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated.
Only two other schools in North Carolina, both private institutions, have higher vaccine exemption percentages among kindergarteners. Each of the schools had a 100 percent exemption rate, but one school only had a single student in that grade while the other had two.