A doctor’s perspective: avoiding vaccination puts a school at risk

This week, a child in a local school developed chicken pox. She was sent home until no new lesions cropped up and all old ones crusted over — about five to seven days. Her siblings, who have not yet shown any symptoms, are out of school for at least two weeks, waiting out the very long incubation period for chicken pox

None were vaccinated at the recommended age of one or four. By choosing not to vaccinate, parents put children in their community at risk for disease. Younger siblings of their play dates are at greatest risk. One family’s “right” to not vaccinate their kids brought unnecessary stress to an entire school. This is the consequence of their choice.

If two weeks seems like a long time, it is! The problem here is that chicken pox has a long period of contagion. The child becomes contagious two to three days before the rash begins and remains contagious until all lesions have crusted over and no more are appearing. Unvaccinated children who have been exposed to the disease can incubate the disease for two to three weeks before showing their own symptoms. Add to that the fact that chicken pox is not a benign illness, not a childhood right of passage. On the contrary, it’s at minimum a very uncomfortable week with fever and an uncomfortable rash. At its worst, it can be deadly. At risk for the most serious complications are those too young to be vaccinated and anyone immune compromised.

There are also significant economic consequences for families affected by chicken pox. Not many people can afford two weeks away from work, never mind the expense of physician visits or worse. Our little school was lucky. There were very few other unimmunized children (thanks herd immunity). Had it been another school or daycare, there could have been large numbers of infants too young to be vaccinated. These babies would have been at risk for disease and the complications of the disease. When parents refuse immunizations there are implications for the community in which they live. It may be a personal “choice” but its consequences are shared by many.

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