The number of public school students receiving exemptions from childhood vaccinations continues to increase in districts across the metro, according to data obtained by 41 Action News.
But doctors see a danger in the dropping vaccination rates among school-age children.
“They’re just all coughing, sneezing, touching each other. It’s a great environment for diseases to spread if there’s one of those children that has one of those vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Steve Lauer.
Lauer, the associate chair of Pediatrics at the University of Kansas Hospital, said this school year he has seen several cases of pertussis, commonly known as the Whooping Cough.
According to doctors and the Centers for Disease Control, the best way for infants, children, teenagers and adults to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated.
“Parents, lots of people have never actually seen these diseases so it gets harder for people to understand why we are doing them, but what we know is that these are serious diseases that used to kill tens of thousands of children every year and that doesn’t happen,” said Lauer.
This week the Independence School District sent letters home to parents of three schools as a “precaution.” According to Jana Corrie, a spokeswoman for the district, a family with children at the elementary, middle and high schools had pertussis.
The letter sent to parents said no other students exhibited signs of pertussis and included information about symptoms.
In September, the Lee’s Summit School District also sent a similar letter to parents warning of a “cluster” of cases. At the time, the Jackson County Health Department’s laboratory confirmed three cases.
Both Missouri and Kansas allow religious and medical exemptions, although few major organized religions oppose childhood vaccinations.
In Missouri, parents must sign a form received from the state to claim a religious exemption. In Kansas, a parent can sign a letter to qualify their child for exemption.
Over the years, a fraudulent study linking vaccinations to autism has been debunked. However, the rise of students attending schools without immunizations continues, mainly driven by parents exempting their students for religious or philosophical reasons - not medical.
Ariel Rothfield can be reached at Ariel.Rothfield@KSHB.com.