North Carolina School With Lowest Vaccination Rate In The State Has A Major Chickenpox Outbreak

Thirty-six students at Asheville Waldorf School have contracted the virus.

a small child with chickenpox
Siarhei Dzmitryienka / Shutterstock

Thirty-six students at Asheville Waldorf School have contracted the virus.

A private North Carolina school with the lowest rate of vaccinated kids in the state now has the worst outbreak of chickenpox that Tar Heel State has seen in 23 years, the Asheville Citizen-Times is reporting.

Asheville’s private Waldorf School has the lowest rate of vaccinated children in the entire state. And now the school has 36 children within its walls who have contracted the varicella virus, varicella being the virus that causes chickenpox.

That’s not a coincidence, says Susan Sullivan, a nurse with the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“The thing people need to understand is that when you have pockets of unvaccinated people, they serve as reservoirs for disease.”

“Religious Exemptions”

North Carolina, like the overwhelming majority of the other 49 states, requires all students who attend a school within the state, whether public or private, to be vaccinated against a variety of disease, both before entering kindergarten and before entering seventh grade, according to the state’s DHHS. Exceptions can be granted in the case of an underlying medical condition that would make vaccination a health risk or if their religion forbids it – the so-called “religious exemption.”

For reasons that remain unclear, North Carolina parents who choose not to vaccinate and claim religious exemptions, tend to gravitate toward private schools. Excluding Asheville’s Waldorf, the only two other North Carolina schools with such high non-vaccination rates were also private schools.

Why Some Parents Refuse To Vaccinate

Although North Carolina and other states allow for “religious exemptions” when it comes to vaccines, religion isn’t always the actual reason parents don’t get their kids vaccinated. According to the National Institutes of Health, other reasons include fears about their safety and/or the long-discredited link between vaccines and autism or because of philosophical opposition to vaccines.

The Re-Emergence Of Long-Dormant Diseases

The trend of parents not vaccinating their kids has led to a re-emergence of diseases, such as measles and chickenpox, that had been all-but-eradicated just a couple of decades ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In New Jersey, for example, an unvaccinated person who traveled internationally brought home the measles virus, infecting at least 14 other people as of this writing, according to NJ Advance Media.

And As For Chickenpox?

Back in North Carolina, officials are treating the chickenpox outbreak seriously, even though the disease is, these days anyway, rarely more than an inconvenience. However, there is a non-zero risk of serious complications, says Dr. Jennifer Mullendore of Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services. Two or three out of every thousand children who get chickenpox will wind up in the hospital.

“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.”