LEE COUNTY, Fla. – WINK News uncovered a growing trend in the number of parents choosing to not vaccinate their children.
Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the number of measles cases to 121. The disease has now spread to 17 states and Washington, D.C. The CDC has reported the majority of the people who have contracted measles were unvaccinated.
WINK News Investigators obtained shot records from 2011-2015 in Charlotte, Collier and Lee County school districts to determine the number of children not vaccinated or under-vaccinated in Southwest Florida. There are three reasons a student can still attend school without all of his/her required vaccines. Those include permanent medical exemptions, temporary medical exemptions and religious exemptions.
A permanent medical exemption is for anyone who is in an immunocompromised state. A doctor must sign off on the exemption.
The second exemption, a temporary medical exemption, also requires a doctor to approve. It’s mostly used to allow children to attend school or child care while in the process of receiving the required vaccines. These exemptions are typically for no more than a few months.
A religious exemption is the only option that allows the parent to choose and does not require a doctor’s approval. In order to receive this exemption, a parent must go to the local health department once in their child’s lifetime and fill out a form.
WINK News uncovered in Lee County public schools the number of children listed under ‘religious exemption’ jumped 66 percent in four years from 709 students in the 2011-2012 school year to 1,183 in the 2014-2015 school year.
“Religious exemptions are increasing, I can’t deny that. I can remember when they were below one percent. As you see more children unimmunized, either religious exemption or other forms of exemption…it decreases the number of people who are immunized and puts a pool of people at risk,” said David Fee, with the Lee County Health Department Immunization Section. “It can be concerning because you are concerned about the overall public health.”
The trend is consistent in Charlotte and Collier counties as well. In the Charlotte County school district, the number of students listed under ‘religious exemption’ jumped 26 percent from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2014-2015 school year. In the Collier County school district, the numbers jumped 41 percent in the same time period.
WINK News talked to one mother, who asked to remain anonymous, about her decision to not vaccinate her child.
“We [her and her husband] talked about the illnesses, and how we can, how we can treat them at home, whether or not we were more comfortable with the illnesses or the ingredients and possible side effects of the vaccines,” she explained. “We just had to decide if we were more comfortable treating measles at home, if we had a good enough relationship with our pediatrician that we felt comfortable to go to him and make sure that nothing would go wrong.”
This mother said when her child does get sick, she makes sure to keep him at home to ensure he does not infect other children.
However, local pediatricians strongly advise against not vaccinating your child, unless they have a serious medical condition.
“People need to realize that by not vaccinating their children, they are putting the rest of society at risk. It’s not just affecting you and your child, it’s affecting 40-year-old people, whose immunity from their childhood shots might not be so great anymore,” said pediatrician Dr. Annette St. Pierre-Mackoul. “You’re putting the rest of society at risk and you’re bringing back diseases that we thought we had eradicated and we had been successful in getting rid of…Once you know the facts, there’s no question that vaccination is best.”
The Risk Factors
WINK News wanted to know if measles could easily spread to Southwest Florida, so we compared our risk factors to San Mateo County in California. This county is not ground-zero for the most recent measles outbreak in Disneyland, but the CDC has reported three cases in the county associated to the outbreak.
To draw a comparison, WINK News investigators looked at religious exemptions in private and public schools in San Mateo County and compared those to Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties. We found the number of religious exemptions, or parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids, was virtually the same.
Last year, San Mateo County reported 1.9 percent of public school kindergartners were listed under ‘religious exemption.’ Compare that to 1.5 percent in Charlotte and 1.7 percent in Collier and Lee counties. For private school kindergartners, San Mateo County reported 4.1 percent last year; compared to 6.7 percent in Collier, 7.5 percent in Lee, and 8.5 percent in Charlotte.