Vaccine Exemptions on The Rise in Connecticut Classrooms

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    Parents of some Connecticut children are growing more and more concerned with students who go unvaccinated due to state exemptions to vaccinations requirements.

    Matt Earls, of Guilford has twins who attend public school. By law, he had to have the kids fully vaccinated according to standards imposed by the State Departments of Health and Education, but as more and more parents utilize a loophole that allows families to “opt out” of immunizations, Matt worries his own children could be at risk.

    “They can bring that disease home to my one-year-old daughter so yes, that’s concerning,” he said.

    According to experts, Earls’ concerns could be well-founded. A September study in Pediatrics, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, found a direct link between non-medical vaccine exemptions among children and a deadly outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in California four years ago.

    Researchers wrote families who obtained vaccine exemptions for their children were clustered together geographically, and those clusters coincided with places where whooping cough were most prevalent.

    “The people who follow these practices tend to be together. They hang out together. They go to the same schools because the schools allow the exemptions, and so you end up with a setup for an outbreak," said Dr. Nick Bennett, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Connecticut Children's Medical Center. "And once it’s in the unimmunized kids, the risk of it spreading to the immunized kids and the immune compromised kids is much, much greater."

    Vaccine exemptions have risen steadily in Connecticut since 2003. In fact, the number of children attending school with a religious exemption for an immunization has nearly tripled, according to statistics provided by the Connecticut Department of Health. The trend is setting off alarm bells in the medical world, and among parents of vaccinated kids.

    “It’s basically a numerical gambling game, whether an infection gets spread person to person,” Dr. Bennett said.