Chickenpox is a nasty little disease that brings the gifts of fever, itchy blisters and infection risk, and it has the tendency to spread like wildfire. That’s why, in the wake of an outbreak of the pox in Traverse City, Michigan schools, unvaccinated kids are being asked to stay at home — for 21 days.
More than 35 students who attend Traverse City Area Public Schools will miss three weeks of school after eight students from three different primary schools came down with the nasty bug. The one thing those 35 students have in common? None of them were vaccinated for varicella zoster, aka chickenpox, aka that thing you probably had as a kid that resulted in a gnarly fever and a crop of itchy, oozy blisters.
The students are being asked to stay at home as an attempt to corral the outbreak in accordance with both state and CDC recommendations, which state that: “Children who lack evidence of immunity and whose parents refuse vaccination should be excluded from school from the start of the outbreak through 21 days after rash onset of the last identified case.”
This is to give the bug time to clear out of the population, but if there’s another outbreak, the clock starts again; those kids would have to go home for another 21 days. Students attending Michigan schools are required by law to be up-to-date on vaccinations, but like many states, parents can get a waiver from a doctor to forgo the requirements.
Traverse City’s waiver rate is 8.6 percent, which ranks them 77th out of 83 counties for kids with up-to-date immunizations.
Since vaccinations are suddenly a tenuous, touchy topic, people definitely have plenty to say about the district’s decision to follow disease control advice.
On social media, people are voicing outrage that the kids are missing school. There appear to be two main schools of thought in the already tense comments on the Facebook pages of multiple publications posting the information. One is that chickenpox is no big deal, as evidenced by comments like this one from a user on a local Michigan news page:
“Everybody probably 25 and older had this ‘disease’. And we all survived it with a few scars. It’s really not a big deal everyone makes it out to be. Especially when there are many more serious ones that children could get.”
The other contention is, of course, part and parcel of the antivax arguments we’ve all unfortunately gotten so familiar with these past few years, as this commenter on another page’s thread maintains:
“I think it’s bull…The vaccine is not 100% protection. If your [sic] going to get your [sic] going to get it..Injecting poison into your body doesn’t mean you will never get a disease or illness. My daughter is immunized but I wish I had all this information when it was time to get her the shots. Immunizations don’t protect you against everything.”
Sigh. While chickenpox is rarely deadly, it’s not really clear why anyone would want their kids to get it on purpose. It’s a miserable disease that carries enough risk to make the vaccine valuable.
Before 1995 in America, there were about 4 million incidences of chickenpox, with up to 30,000 people needing hospital care, and resulted in 100-150 deaths per year. Now we get about 400,000 cases a year, and in 2003 and 2004, only eight people died as a result of complications from the disease.
Those complications don’t have to be deadly for you to want to avoid them; they include pneumonia, group A strep infections, toxic shock syndrome, encephalitis and blood poisoning, among others, which can result in lengthy hospital stays and are damn painful to contend with.
So, no. We were not “all fine” in the days where parents would send kids to “chickenpox parties” as an attempt to — and this is perhaps the most ironic part — innoculate their kids against the disease. Some people got very sick. Some still do.
Some people can’t be vaccinated due to compromised immune systems, and some choose not to based on quackery and woo. Both groups are equally at risk for contracting and spreading the disease during the outbreak, but only one has the right to be pissed off during an outbreak.
Hint: If you think vaccination involves “injecting poison into your body,” it’s not you.
It’s still your choice not to, and no one is out to get you if you refuse to do it. But there are consequences for making that decision, and you take them upon yourself when you do. You know that your child might be at higher risk for contracting a disease, and now you know that your child is at a very high risk of being told to stay home in an outbreak.