What the Decrease in Vaccinations Means for Our Schools

What the Decrease in Vaccinations Means for Our Schools

decrease in vaccinationsThe winter 2014 outbreak of measles in California has raised the age old question about children and vaccinations. Debates over mandatory vaccinations, whether they are safe or not, immunization requirements and the chances of actually catching a disease without being vaccinated are conversations heard throughout communities.

The epidemic has left parents concerned about their school aged children and how an outbreak will affect them when exposed to other children whose families have elected to opt out of vaccinations. To better understand these concerns, it is necessary to look at how this outbreak began and how diseases like this are transmitted by non-vaccinated people.

It is believed the 2014 epidemic at Disney California Adventure Park began with a 20 year old unvaccinated woman who was staying at the theme park and also traveling through airports in both California and Washington State. How she came in contact with the measles is unknown. However, due to the fact she was not vaccinated, the incubation period of the disease and they number of people exposed, an outbreak began.

Measles are an airborne disease transmitted through the sneeze or cough from an infected person. It can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to 2 hours, making exposure extremely easy. There is a 10 to 12 day incubation period for the disease. This disease is contagious four days before and four days after the rash appears, causing people to unknowingly spread the disease without symptoms during the incubation period. There is no cure outside of vaccination for the disease. 12 to 18 unvaccinated people will be infected after exposure to one person with measles. An unvaccinated individual is 35 times more likely to catch and transmit the disease than a vaccinated individual.

Understanding measles and how rapidly this disease can spread in a community has school aged parents concerned. When parents opt out of vaccinations, they not only risk the health of their children but to those who they attend school with. This was proven with the resurgence of the disease during 1989 through 1991 when fewer than 50% of preschool aged children were vaccinated by their second birthdays. This further puts infants under 12 months old at a high risk of having measles transmitted to them from their school aged siblings. Children cannot begin vaccination for measles until they are at least 12 months old.

There are no Federal laws or regulations requiring mandatory vaccinations for children to go to school. Each state has their own laws and most of those are left to local regulations. Schools require documentation of vaccinations before entering school or advancing to the next grade level. But this does not mean that all students have been vaccinated. Parents can opt out of vaccination requirements by applying for exemptions. Vaccination exemptions can be made for religious, philosophical and medical reasons. Each exemption is up to the discrepancy of state and local laws and regulations.

Many parents feel that vaccinations are unnecessary as there are no major outbreaks of diseases in the United States. They feel that injecting a live vaccine in their child or children will cause more harm or could lead to other medical conditions such as autism. There is no medical evidence reported by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support these theories. Although no vaccination is 100% effective, the side effects of the immunizations outweighs the complications and life-long disabilities associated with diseases like measles. Severe reactions from the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccination are extremely rare and could possibly not be related or caused from the vaccination. The MMR vaccination program began in 1971. The immunization program in the United States has been extremely successful in eliminating diseases. But it is only as strong as those who vaccinate their children.

Parents should be concerned about the decrease of vaccinated children in schools. Although diseases have decreased over the years due to the immunization program, United States residents who are unvaccinated and traveling abroad are returning with diseases such as measles. This puts every unvaccinated person at risk. If no one was vaccinated, hundreds to thousands of people would be infected. Only unvaccinated people can transmit the disease.