In North Carolina, more and more people are using their faith as an excuse for refusing their children life-saving vaccines, all while the state and country experience one of the biggest measles outbreaks in recent history.
Religion has long been a factor for people who refuse to inoculate their babies from mostly eradicated diseases that threaten their lives, despite the fact that no major religious organization opposes vaccinating against infectious diseases. In North Carolina and some other areas, though, instances of this are rising at a crucial time: during an outbreak of epic proportions.
Fortunately, the ABC11 I-Team decided to investigate the issue along with seven other ABC affiliates.
“People who lived through these diseases that killed their children were so desperate for the vaccine they wouldn’t have dreamed of refusing them,” said Dr. Gabriela Maradiaga-Panayotti, a Duke Hospital pediatrician. “There are many people now who don’t think this is an active issue. They don’t think it’s going to affect them or their child and what worries me is how we are getting the information to these families.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles reemerged as early as January 2018. By that summer, health officials reported 107 cases in 21 states, including three in North Carolina (all in Johnston County).
This year, confirmed cases of measles have skyrocketed to 1,241 — the most since 1992. The majority of those cases are linked to outbreaks in New York, but health officials have reported outbreaks in 30 other states.
To make matters worse, as North Carolina’s religious exemption rates are on the rise, the number of vaccinated kids is dropping consistently year over year. All of this while the country is grappling with a disease that was largely irrelevant until it was brought back to power by passionate anti-vaxxers.
Importantly, the state is now falling behind the magic “herd immunity” number of 95% vaccine coverage.
In North Carolina, vaccinations rates among many public, private and parochial schools, have generally hovered in and around 95 percent, but data obtained by the I-Team shows those numbers falling below that threshold in the last couple of years. Schools in Chatham, Cumberland, Durham and Wake Counties all saw an increase in the number of students who were not immunized between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.
Last year vaccination rates among kindergarten students in Cumberland, Durham, and Wake Counties were 93.8 percent, 93.3 percent, and 94.1 percent respectively.
Beyond just being tragic, the trend is putting the state of North Carolina in an extremely vulnerable position. The ingredients are there for measles to return in full force.
Although this is terrifying, there is some good news nationwide. Religious exemptions, which are on the rise in North Carolina, are being blocked in Connecticut, where a Democratic governor is planning to end the faith-based loophole.
That’s the model everyone should be using. North Carolina would be wise to follow suit.
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