ASHEVILLE, NC – August 16, 2023 – Buncombe County (BC) schools are getting ready to reopen for the 2023-24 school year. Be aware that classrooms are breeding grounds for spreading disease-producing germs between the students.
According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC HHS), obtained from the Asheville Citizen-Times through a public records request, kindergarten students in BC (which include Asheville city students) had the 4th highest vaccination exemption rate for religious beliefs of the 100 North Carolina counties in 2022. The average rate was 5.4%, more than double the statewide average of 2.3%. Each of these students has an exemption to at least one of the required vaccines.
BC kindergarten students who attended private schools in 2022 had the highest student vaccination exemption rate for religious beliefs than either county public or charter schools. The private schools had an almost 20% religious exemption rate. This has decreased from more than 22% three years earlier. In contrast, the religion exemption rate for charter schools was almost 7% and for public schools was just over 3% in 2022. Since 2019, the exemption rate for children who attend public schools has remained about the same, while the charter school rate has fluctuated between 13% to its present value.
In order to enter kindergarten, each child must have between 1-5 doses of 9 different vaccines for 11 diseases. The BC HHS recommends immunizing school age children to protect themselves and others from communicable childhood diseases like measles, whooping cough, meningitis and chicken pox. Communities with high rates of exemptions are at risk for outbreaks for these vaccine-preventable diseases. Unvaccinated children are at higher risk to come down with or spread a vaccine-preventable disease. This can result in missed schooldays for children and missed workdays for parents who must take care of their sick child.
According to North Carolina law, there are 2 types of exemptions from the required immunizations. These are medical and religious. BC has less than 1% of students with a medical exemption for the past 5 years. In order to file for a religious exemption for a student, the parent must send a letter to the school stating the religious objection to immunization in lieu of providing an immunization record. These statements do not need to be signed by a religious leader or sent to the state for review.
Immunizations are a shield of protection against vaccine-preventable disease for the child and for all contacts, like family members, teachers and the community. NC law requires all children have age-appropriate vaccinations for 11 diseases before they are allowed to attend school, unless they have an exemption. All public, private and religious schools are required by state law to report the immunization status of all children enrolled in school to the NC HHS.
Your doctor, school nurse or the BC immunization clinic will be able to answer any of your questions about immunizations. Vaccination is available at your doctor’s office and at the BC Immunization Clinic at 40 Coxe Avenue.
Listen to the full report below:
Contact: Dr. Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, email@example.com