North Carolina school faces state’s biggest chickenpox outbreak in over 20 years

Chickenpox has taken hold of a school in North Carolina where many families claim religious exemption from vaccines, according to FOX 8. 

Cases of chickenpox have been multiplying at the Asheville Waldorf School, which serves children from nursery school to sixth grade in Asheville, N.C. About a dozen infections grew to 28 at the beginning of the month. By Friday, there were 36, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

The outbreak ranks as the state’s worst since the chickenpox vaccine became available more than 20 years ago. Since then, the two-dose course has succeeded in limiting the highly contagious disease that once affected 90 percent of Americans — a public health breakthrough.

The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015, the flare-up demonstrates the real-life consequences of a shadowy debate fueled by junk science and fomented by the same sort of Twitter bots and trolls that spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. And it shows how a seemingly fringe view can gain currency in a place like Asheville, a funky, year-round resort town nestled between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.

“The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school,” the school explained in a statement to Blue Ridge Public Radio.

Jennifer Mullendore, the medical director of Buncombe County, N.C., was unambiguous: “We want to be clear: Vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox.”

“When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community — into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams,” she said in a news release.

But not all parents seemed to grasp the gravity of the outbreak. Nor does everyone see the rationale behind vaccines, which some believe — contrary to scientific evidence — cause more severe health issues than they’re meant to cure. The claim of an autism risk, though it has been debunked, has remained a rallying cry of the anti-vaccine movement.