Not vaccinated? No s’mores for you. Summer camps across the country are refusing to admit unvaccinated children, despite religious or philosophical exemptions, amidst the worst measles outbreak in decades.
Some camps, such as Boulder JCC’s day camp programs, require all campers and staff to have up-to-date vaccination records. “While parents may choose to defer the vaccination of their children, for the Boulder JCC, this is not an issue of individual rights and choice, but an issue of public health and policy,” Boulder JCC’s website reads. “The routine vaccination of all children, staff, and faculty is an important public health matter, especially in the confined environment of a camp program.” (SheKnows reached out to a Boulder JCC spokesperson, who declined to provide additional comment.)
Another camp, the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, explicitly states which vaccines it requires for all campers (they follow the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization guidelines) on its website, so there’s no confusion when families apply.
Some counties, such as Wade County in Pennsylvania, have taken additional steps to reduce the risk of measles outbreaks. According to CNN, the Wade County Camp Alliance, which serves approximately 28,000 campers at 30 different camps each year, now requires campers to disclose their vaccination history — specifically if they’ve received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine — before they’re allowed to play inter-camp sports. CNN adds that one of the WCCA camps, Camp IHC, even pays extra attention to the medical records for staffers who come from out of the country.
Counties in New York are also cracking down. “In the past where we accepted religious exemptions for certain things, now we cannot,” Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, of Ulster County’s Camp Emunah, told The Associated Press.
Still, many of these camps may accept children if their families can provide a legitimate medical exemption — keyword medical — from a certified doctor.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports summer camps turning away unvaccinated campers and staff. “Immunization requirements for participation at a camp provide a safe environment for those participating,” reads a recent AAP policy statement. “Nonmedical exemptions to required immunizations are inappropriate, and these exemptions should be eliminated by camps. Participation by campers and staff who are incompletely immunized or unimmunized because of nonmedical exemptions is inappropriate for individual, public health, and ethical reasons.”
Vaccines are hotly debated right now, as the CDC reports more than 1,000 confirmed cases of measles across the United States. Last week, New York state made headlines when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill ending religious exemptions for vaccines for schoolkids. Previously, the NY State Department of Health reported that more than 25,000 children, many of whom were from ultra-Orthodox communities, had religious exemptions in the 2017-2018 school year.
While the focus seems to be on measles, camps are also concerned about more common illnesses, such as the flu and head colds. As any parent knows, any environment housing dozens of children can be a hotbed for germs. Last year, the Clover Leaf 4-H camp in Lake Placid, Florida, captured national attention after 33 campers were hospitalized after exhibiting symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and fever, The Washington Post reports. Getting a flu shot could potentially help prevent the spread of seasonal illnesses.
Between choosing the right summer camp and packing all of the camp essentials, parents have enough to worry about before sending their kids away for over the break; illnesses like the measles shouldn’t add to the stress.