Anti-vaxxers’ gift to North Carolina: The worst chicken pox outbreak in two decades

In 1995, the chicken pox vaccine was introduced, but that important leap in science wasn’t enough to stop the worst outbreak of the disease North Carolina has seen in a long time — and it’s all thanks to people who hold some tremendous misgivings about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

The Asheville Waldorf School in Asheville, N.C. now has a total of 36 children who’ve been infected with chicken pox, making it the worst outbreak the state has seen since the vaccine was made available to the public 23 years ago.

As The Washington Post points out, the school has become a stronghold for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. In a statement to a local public radio station, the school seemed to be enabling the “choice” concept utilized by anti-vaxxers.

“The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school,” the school said in a statement to Blue Ridge Public Radio.

In other words, they weren’t very strict when it came to enforcing vaccination requirements. Many schools across the U.S. will send children home if their immunization records aren’t up to date.

While some may remember the chicken pox being a harmless health hurdle from their youth, the disease can be “life-threatening, especially in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems,” the CDC warns.

“People don’t think it’s a serious disease, and for the majority of people it’s not. But it’s not that way for everybody,” Dr. Jennifer Mullendore of the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services told the Citizen Times, adding that out of every 1,000 children infected, two to three will have to hospitalized.

“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,” she said.

Out of Asheville’s 152 students (who range from nursery school to the 6th grade), 110 have not been vaccinated for chicken pox,  according to the Citizen Times. Given that fact, it’s logical to assume that these children haven’t been vaccinated for other illnesses. One way for parents to get around district vaccination requirements is to obtain religious exemptions, and Asheville had a lot of them. During the 2017-18 school year, 19 of 28 kindergartners obtained exemptions from at least one required vaccine.

The current wave of anti-vaccine sentiment can be traced back to a single study from 1998 that appeared in the Lancet medical journal — a study that fraudulently linked vaccines to autism. It was outright debunked in the science world and later retracted.

In the 2011 issue in BMJ (British Medical Journal), investigative reporter Brian Deer wrote a piece titled, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed,” pointing out that key facts were distorted in the study to support the autism link. After reviewing the health records of the subjects involved in the study and interviewing their families and doctors, Deer found numerous inconsistencies, some of which were recounted in a 2011 piece from NPR

In the study, only 1 of 9 kids said to have regressive autism clearly had it. Three had no form of autism. Contrary to the paper’s assertion that all the kids were normal before vaccination, five had some sort of preexisting developmental problems. Also, the behavioral problems that popped up days after vaccination didn’t actually appear for months in some kids, a fact that undercuts the causality of vaccination.

Vaccines aren’t just to protect the healthy; they also protect people who have compromised immune systems.

“It’s not just about you,” vaccine expert and DHHS nurse Susan Sullivan told the Citizen Times. “It’s about the people you interact with: Pregnant women, people with AIDS, people finishing chemo. They’re a part of our community, too, and we have to do what we can to protect everybody.”

Featured image via Flickr

Sky Palma

Before launching DeadState back in 2012, Sky Palma has been blogging about politics, social issues and religion for over a decade. He lives in Los Angeles and also enjoys Brazilian jiu jitsu, chess, music and art.