News, Culture & Society

More chickenpox cases reported in anti-vaxxer community

Thirty-three private school students in North Carolina now have chickenpox in the biggest outbreak to hit the state since the vaccine was invented in 1995.

Another five cases were reported this week at Asheville Waldorf School, which has been trying to quarantine non-infected, unvaccinated children since late October.

In a statement, school directors said it has provided information about the outbreak to the health department as they work to contain the infections.

North Carolina’s rate of unvaccinated children doubled between 2012 and 2016 due to easy exemption rules for religious reasons.

Asheville Waldorf School now has 33 cases of chickenpox, up from 13 earlier this month. North Carolina’s rate of unvaccinated children doubled between 2012 and 2016 due to easy exemption rules (file image)

To obtain a medical exemption, parents need a doctor to prove that their child is immunocompromised and would be harmed by the vaccine, and the state has to approve their application to prove that.

However, religious exemption is much simpler. There is no oversight. The parent need only write a letter to the school claiming religious beliefs, and their child is exempt. 

According to an article North Carolina’s The News & Observer last year, the rate of children exempted for medical reasons remains low (just 180 kids). But religious exemptions have risen dramatically, from 871 in 2012 to 2,073 in 2016. 

The lack of approval process means ‘you don’t even have to believe in God,’ Asheville-based lawyer Alan Phillips told the newspaper.  

Trying to bring the latest outbreak under control, Buncombe County Medical Director Dr Jennifer Mullendore said students who can’t provide proof of vaccination against chickenpox have been quarantined for 21 days. One of the infected children attends a different school.

Asheville Waldorf, a private school, opened in 2009, first with the name Azalea Mountain School.

It serves students from nursery school age to Grade 6, with approximately 130 students, for up to $8,900 a year. 

‘Asheville Waldorf School is committed to protecting the health and safety of our community,’ the school said in a statement.