Nobody wants their kid to end up with chickenpox, and that’s why a Michigan school district is taking extreme caution and forcing unvaccinated kids to stay home during a recent outbreak of the illness.
According to the Traverse City Record Eagle, more than 35 students who attend Traverse City Area Public Schools are being asked to stay home for the next 21 days, following a recommendation by the County Health Department after eight students contracted chickenpox. The hope is that keeping unvaccinated kids at home will allow officials to corral the outbreak and prevent it from spreading.
Per the Health Department’s recommendation, kids who “lack evidence of immunity and whose parents refuse vaccination” should be excluded from school for 21 days from the onset of the last identified case of the illness. Students are allowed to return to class if they get immunized before the 21-day period ends and if they’re cleared by a doctor, but given the county’s high rate of vaccine exemptions — 8.6 percent of all kids are not vaccinated — that’s probably not going to happen.
Instead, they’ll have to wait it out, and if another kid develops the illness, the 21-day clock will start over. Vaccine waivers signed by parents at the beginning of the school year indicate that public health officials have the right to exclude students from classes as a “disease control measure.” Still, that hasn’t stopped many from voicing outrage and concern over kids being forced to miss so many days.
Angry parents have taken to social media to proclaim that chickenpox is no big deal and the school is overreacting. Wrote one mom on the WWMT Facebook page:
“It’s the chicken pox! No big deal! Better for them to get it now than when they’re older. Making them stay out of school for 21 days or vaccinate (which can just spread it around more) is silly and a way to try to get at those that don’t vaccinate.”
The thing is, chickenpox is a big deal — that’s why they went to the trouble of creating a vaccine. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there were about 4 million incidents of chickenpox a year prior to the vaccine’s introduction, and those cases resulted in 30,000 hospitalizations and up to 150 deaths annually. Since the vaccine was introduced to the public, the number of cases has dropped to 400,000 per year, with about eight related deaths.
Not to mention, chickenpox is dangerous to more than just the exposed school kids. Those unvaccinated children could potentially expose infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. There’s a reason the Health Department thinks forcing kids to stay home is the best course of action. They aren’t just doing it because they love the idea of children missing school.
Vaccination may be a personal choice, but it has public consequences. People who opt out of vaccinating their kids have to be prepared to deal with those consequences and to take the necessary steps to ensure their personal decision isn’t putting others in harm’s way. If we don’t want kids missing school due to outbreaks of preventable diseases, there’s a simple solution for that: it’s called vaccination.