Tag: Waldorf schools

Are Kids With Religious Exemptions Spreading Disease?

One common anti-vax talking point is that kids who are unvaccinated can’t spread disease because they aren’t sick. One lawsuit against New York’s new vaccine law went so far as to say that “there has not been one instance of a child with a religious exemption spreading disease in a school.”

Did Assemblymember Colton look for evidence?

Is that true?

I’m guessing it isn’t, but let’s do a little research…

Are Kids With Religious Exemptions Spreading Disease?

Before I considered the latest measles outbreak in New York and how many of those cases occurred in unvaccinated kids in school with religious exemptions, I found a few other examples.

“During April 4-May 17, 1994, the largest U.S. measles outbreak since 1992 occurred among students in two communities that do not routinely accept vaccination. This report summarizes the investigation of and control measures for this outbreak. The outbreak began in a 14-year-old Christian Science high school student who developed a rash on April 4, 2 weeks after skiing in Colorado where a measles outbreak was occurring. The student lived with her family in a community associated with a Christian Science college in Jersey County, Illinois, and commuted approximately 30 miles to a Christian Science boarding school (kindergarten through grade 12 {K-12}) in St. Louis County, Missouri.”

Outbreak of Measles Among Christian Science Students — Missouri and Illinois, 1994

At least 189 people got measles in these communities during this outbreak, including a student in New York.

“Eighteen prospective students from outside St. Louis County attended a carnival at the boarding school on April 16; eight developed measles after returning home (three to Maine, two to California, and one each to Missouri, New York, and Washington).”

Outbreak of Measles Among Christian Science Students — Missouri and Illinois, 1994

During another measles outbreak among Christian Scientists in 1985 in Illinois, there were at least 136 cases, including 3 deaths.

There were even more deaths during a measles outbreak in Philadelphia in 1991.

“According to Assistant Health Commissioner Robert Sharrar, four victims from Philadelphia – two girls 9 years old and two girls 11 and 13 – were affiliated with the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, which shuns medical treatment. The children, who attended the church’s school, had not been vaccinated. “

Philadelphia’s Measles Death Toll Rises

By the end of the 1991 Philly outbreak, 9 children were dead.

Back to New York, during a 2009 mumps outbreak in New York and New Jersey, even though many were vaccinated, “the outbreak primarily has affected members of a tradition-observant religious community.”

Are there any other examples?

Four children in Florida with a religious exemption developed measles in 2012 and although they didn’t get anyone at school sick, they did likely expose someone at an Orlando-area theme park who did later get sick.

Also in Florida, in 2013, in a charter school where 84% of kids had religious exemptions, 316 students developed pertussis, with attack rates of 57%!

What’s the usual attack rate for pertussis?

In another Florida outbreak in 2013, this one at a preschool, attack rates ranged from 23% for kids who were up-to-date on their pertussis vaccinations to 40% if they had fewer than three doses of a pertussis vaccine.

At the Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina, at least 36 students got sick with chickenpox in 2018. The school had the highest rate of religious exemptions in the state.

And there was an outbreak in Alaska linked to religious exemptions.

“Among the 30 who were not vaccinated, 24 (80%) were eligible to be vaccinated (i.e., aged ≥ 12 months and born on or after January 1, 1957); of the 24 who were eligible to be vaccinated, all 12 school-aged children had religious exemptions, and two of nine children aged 1–4 years were siblings of these unvaccinated schoolchildren. Although no source case was identified, this outbreak coincided with a measles outbreak associated with the Seattle-Tacoma (Washington) airport, the major airport gateway to Juneau.”

Measles Outbreak Among School-Aged Children — Juneau, Alaska, 1996

Remember the last imported case of vaccine associated paralytic polio?

In 2005, an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student from Arizona became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program. She had never been vaccinated because she had a religious exemption.

How about the last cases of wild polio in the United States?

“The 1979 outbreak occurred in unvaccinated Amish persons living in Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Overall, 15 cases of illness caused by wild poliovirus type 1 occurred among U.S. citizens: all 10 paralytic cases occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; three cases of transient paralysis occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; and two nonparalytic cases occurred among unvaccinated members of the Mennonite church who were in frequent contact with Amish persons. Epidemiologic and virologic evidence indicated this outbreak resulted from importation of poliovirus from the Netherlands through Canada (Ontario), where outbreaks had occurred during 1978 in members of religious groups with objections to vaccination.”

Poliomyelitis — United States, Canada

It was in 1979.

It was among the Amish and may have been linked to religious exemptions, although many Amish got vaccinated to help eliminate the endemic spread of polio in the United States.

Before that, in 1972, there was an outbreak of paralytic polio at Daycroft, a Chris­tian Science boarding school in Greenwich, Connecticut. At least 12 students, all unvaccinated, were affected in the first polio epidemic in the US in seven years.

11 kids got paralytic polio at a Christian Science school in 1972.

Also among the Amish, an outbreak of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 1991, including 16 cases in New York.

“The outcome of pregnancy was determined for the 94 Amish mothers who reported illness or had serologic evidence of maternal rubella (Table 1). CRS occurred in 10 infants, all of whom were born to mothers who had histories of rubella-like illness in the first trimester; seven had possible manifestations of CRS; nine were miscarried/stillborn; and 68 infants appeared normal at birth. During the study period, medical personnel identified one additional infant with CRS from Lancaster County whose mother was a conservative Mennonite. “

Congenital Rubella Syndrome Among the Amish — Pennsylvania, 1991-1992

There have also been cases of tetanus among the Amish.

“In 1997 a 12-year-old Amish boy in Pennsylvania contracted tetanus. His medical bills were $600,000. The Amish community refused to apply for Medicaid because of their religious opposition to accepting government assistance and were able to pay only $60,000 of the bill.”

Some Outbreaks of Vaccine-Preventable Disease in Groups with Religious or Philosophical Exemptions to Vaccination

More recently, the measles outbreaks in New York occurred almost exclusively among completely unvaccinated children, including many school aged children.

“Persons who claim exemptions from immunizations for any reason may be at increased risk of contracting a VPD compared with immunized persons. In addition, persons who claim philosophical and/or religious exemptions (exemptors) may create some risk to the community because unvaccinated or undervaccinated persons may be a source of transmission.”

Salmon et al on Health Consequences of Religious and Philosophical Exemptions From Immunization Laws

Remember diphtheria?

You probably think that it has been a long, long time since a child has died from diphtheria in the United States, especially since we have had an effective vaccine for well over one hundred years.

Well, it has been a long time since anyone who was vaccinated has died…

Tragically, in 1982, a 9-year-old girl died after getting diphtheria at a Christian Science camp in Colorado.

Even more recently, an unvaccinated 4-year-old boy died in Massachusetts died with diphtheria. His mother was a Christian Scientist.

It should be very clear that kids with non-medical exemptions, including religious exemptions, are getting sick and are spreading disease.

We should have acted in 2007, instead of waiting for more and more kids to get sick in outbreaks, as non-medical exemptions to continued to increase.
We should have acted in 2007, instead of waiting for more and more kids to get sick in outbreaks, as non-medical exemptions to continued to increase.

Increasing in the post-Wakefield era, religious exemptions from immunizations put our kids at risk.

More on Kids With Religious Exemptions Spreading Disease

Update on Vaccine Exemption Rates in California

Vaccination rates in California are dropping.

Wait, what?

Didn’t they recently pass a vaccine law that removed non-medical exemptions? How could vaccination rates be dropping?

Update on Vaccine Exemption Rates in California

While SB 277 did indeed remove all non-medical exemptions to getting vaccinated, some folks found a way around it. Since 2015, when it passed, some doctors are giving kids fake or unnecessary medical exemptions. These extra medical exemptions are likely making up for their previous personal belief vaccine exemptions.

The result?

It isn’t fewer exemptions since 2015.

Explain to me how it is ethical to misrepresent the rates of medical exemptions during a measles outbreak?
Explain to me how it is ethical to misrepresent the rates of medical exemptions during a measles outbreak?

While personal belief exemptions are certainly down, medical exemptions keep going up.

In addition to the 0.9% of medical exemptions, another 1.5% of kids, also up as a percentage, are unvaccinated “for other reasons specified under SB 277.”

There are also about 1.7% of kids in kindergarten who enroll as conditional entrants.

Why is that important? Among those conditional entrants are kids with temporary medical exemptions.

And how many kids aren’t vaccinated simply because they are “receiving IEP services?”

So it is not only wrong, it is unethical to try and say that only 0.9% of kids have vaccine exemptions in California this year.

Update on Vaccine Exemption Rates in California’s Clusters

Still, the big story continues to be what’s going on in the clusters of intentionally unvaccinated kids in California and other parts of the United States.

Are they getting vaccinated and protected under SB 277?

Wait, I thought Dr. Bob said that the vaccine exemption rate was just 0.9%. What happened at this Waldorf school? 30% of the kids have medical exemptions!
Wait, I thought Dr. Bob said that the vaccine exemption rate was just 0.9%. What happened at this Waldorf school? 30% of the kids have medical exemptions!

Some actually are!

The MMR rate at the Waldorf school in San Diego was just 44% back in 2014, as a whopping 56% of kids had a personal belief exemption. As sad as it sounds, even though it is still below herd immunity levels of protection, their current MMR vaccination rate of 68% is a big improvement!

Unfortunately, there are many schools with even lower immunization rates. And of course, that means even more students with “medical exemptions” at those schools.

SchoolPMEs
Marin Waldorf School31%
Yuba River Charter64%
Westside Waldorf School37%
Sebastopol Independent Charter45%
Muse Charter50%
Live Oak Charter41%
Nevada City School of Arts31%
Sunridge Charter47%
Santa Cruz Waldorf School34%
Cedar Springs Waldorf School30%
Journey33%
Waldorf School of Orange County33%
Coastal Grove Charter36%
Mariposa School of Global Ed31%
Waldorf School of the Peninsula36%
Maple Village Waldorf School30%

In addition to these permanent medical exemptions (PMEs), some schools also have high rates of temporary medical exemptions.

Medical Exemptions for Vaccines in California are Unusually High

What’s the usual rate of medical exemptions?

As there are few reasons to skip or delay a child’s vaccines, it is lower than those rates.

A lot lower.

In one recent report, Vaccination Coverage for Selected Vaccines, Exemption Rates, and Provisional Enrollment Among Children in Kindergarten — United States, 2016–17 School Year, the median rate of medical exemptions in the U.S. was just 0.2%, with a range of <0.1 to 1.5%.

Also unusual is that in some cases, many of those exemptions are written by just a few doctors. In fact, families often go to these doctors just to get their kids their medical exemptions!

“…the removal of nonmedical exemptions in California was initially effective in increasing vaccination rates, but the substitution between exemption types may render the repeal partially ineffective in improving immunization coverage and preventing VPDs over time.”

Richwine et al on Do Stricter Immunization Laws Improve Coverage? Evidence from the Repeal of Non-medical Exemptions for School Mandated Vaccines

How do we fix this and get more kids vaccinated and protected?

“Beyond fostering compliance, tightening the requirements around medical waivers will also aid in promoting public policies that protect public health.”

Richwine et al on Do Stricter Immunization Laws Improve Coverage? Evidence from the Repeal of Non-medical Exemptions for School Mandated Vaccines

In addition to closing the loopholes that allow some doctors to abuse medical exemptions, it will be important to help parents be more skeptical and see through the anti-vaccine propaganda that other doctors use to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

More on Vaccine Exemption Rates in California

Fact Checking the Truth About Vaccination Rates in California

In general, higher immunization rates should translate into lower rates of disease.

And it is true that in most states, including California, overall immunization rates are up.

So what’s happening?

Fact Checking the Truth About Vaccination Rates in California

Everyone knows what’s happening!

Clusters of unvaccinated kids and adults.

Pockets of susceptibles.

Abuse and overuse of vaccine exemptions.

And folks who continue to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

There are measles outbreaks in this part of northern California...
There are measles outbreaks in this part of northern California…

What’s the truth about California’s immunization rates and the reason they are still having outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases?

“Oh, but wait! What do you mean we have higher vaccination coverage NOW than we did back then? How can that be? I thought rates have been declining steadily for two decades putting us in a terrible position of falling wayyyy below herd immunity levels!?

I thought the reason we are now “in danger of disease outbreaks” is because of the increasing number of children being exempted from vaccines? Hold on, wait. You’re telling me there are LESS kids exempted now than there were in the year 2000 when we were free of outbreaks because of “high vaccination rates”? That can’t be right…can it?”

Melissa Floyd

You aren’t going to get it from anti-vaccine folks

73% is actually pretty good for a Waldorf school!
73% is actually pretty good for a Waldorf school!

But it’s not surprising that you get misinformation about herd immunity from folks who think vaccines don’t actually create herd immunity.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that you can’t hide in the herd when your herd is a cluster of unvaccinated kids at a Waldorf school.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary. Vaccinate your kids and help stop the outbreaks.

More on Fact Checking the Truth About Vaccination Rates in California

Why Is a Kentucky Teen Who Refused to Get Vaccinated Suing His School?

One extra consequence of the rise in cases of vaccine-preventable diseases we have been seeing lately, in addition to the fact that more kids are getting sick, is that we are seeing more kids being quarantined and kept out of school.

“The parents of 42 children affected by the ban at the school, the Green Meadow Waldorf School, sued the Rockland County health department, asking a federal judge to issue an injunction to allow the children to return.”

Parents Wanted Their Unvaccinated Children in School, but a Judge Said No.

And in a few cases, we are seeing lawsuits trying to get some of these kids, mostly intentionally unvaccinated kids, back into school.

Why Is a Kentucky Teen Who Refused to Get Vaccinated Suing His School?

While most outbreaks are related to measles, in Kentucky, a large outbreak of chickenpox at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton has led to the quarantine of a number of unvaccinated students.

A chickenpox quarantine sign

One student, a senior and the starting center on the school basketball team, is suing to get him back in school.

“The Kunkels filed their lawsuit Thursday in the Boone County Circuit Court alleging that the Northern Kentucky Health Department had violated Jerome’s First Amendment rights. Accepting the chickenpox vaccine would be “immoral, illegal and sinful,” they said, according to their Catholic beliefs. The lawsuit also alleges that the health department violated due process when officials enacted the extracurricular and school attendance bans without declaring an official emergency, which would have triggered the involvement of the state legislature.”

God, country and chickenpox: How an outbreak entangled one school in a vaccine showdown

So they are actually suing the health department, not his school, to get him back into school…

Wait a minute though?

Is the Catholic Church against vaccines?

“Since there is no Catholic teaching that the use of these vaccines is sinful, schools cannot allow Catholic parents to claim a religious exemption from the requirement of immunization.”

National Catholic Bioethics Center on Vaccines and Exemptions Granted by Schools

Are they against the chickenpox vaccine?

“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

National Catholic Bioethics Center

No, they aren’t, which is why most Catholics vaccinate and protect their kids.

“In the event that the county health department or state health department declares an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease for which proof of immunity for a child cannot be provided, he or she may not be allowed to attend childcare or school for up to three (3) weeks, or until the risk period ends.”

Kentucky Parent or Guardian Declination on Religious Grounds to Required Immunizaitons

A judge will have to decide the merits of the case, but from a moral standpoint, it seems like they are on shaky ground.

More on Quarantines for Intentionally Unvaccinated Kids