A Lot of New York’s Private School Parents Aren’t Bothering To Vaccinate Their Kids

Brooklyn Waldorf, where immunization rates are at 60.1 percent. (Image via ClintonHillChill)

The U.S. supposedly eliminated cases of measles entirely by 2000, but after two separate New York outbreaks in the past year or so, Daily Intel pulled the numbers, and found something pretty disturbing: even in a state with relatively stringent vaccination policies, a lot of New York’s private schools have startlingly dismal vaccination rates. Ah.

From Intel’s write-up of the data:

School immunization data for the 2012-13 school year obtained by Daily Intelligencer from the New York State Department of Health shows that some 245 New York City private schools fell short of the 95 percent vaccination rate which experts say prevents measles from spreading — an effect known as “herd immunity.” Of those schools, 125 had rates below 90 percent, and 37 fell below 70 percent. The nine private schools with the lowest rates — between 41.5 percent and 18.4 percent — were so underimmunized that if any one of them somehow seceded and became a Sealand-style micro-nation, it would literally have had the worst measles vaccination rate in the world, according to WHO numbers.

We could bang our heads against a wall all day citing all the concrete scientific evidence in favor of vaccinating kids or the level of selfishness it takes to put other lives at risk because, hey, if worst comes to worst, you can afford treatment for your child. A community post on Jezebel today raises an interesting point, though, about how, exactly, we should be approaching people who are still convinced that breaking this most basic of social contracts is the right thing to do:

“Are we really that scared of Autism that we’d rather watch our children suffer medieval-style viruses than see them live a healthy life with some social ticks?

And there lies the problem, we spend so much time talking about herd immunity and children getting sick, that we fail to understand just why parents are doing this. They are afraid of having a child with Autism. Because a sickly nearly dead child is better than a child with developmental disabilities. Because you’d rather watch your kids suffer physically than suffer the embarrassment of being “special needs.” Because social stigmas are clearly much worse than physical ones. And we need to stop this shit.”

It’s a fair argument, and tempting though it may be to shout down Jenny McCarthy types as dangerous idiots who deserved to be annexed to their own, diseased island, it is… perhaps not the most productive means of effecting change. In any case, Intel spoke with a Mount Sinai pediatrician, who reiterated that low rates of vaccination in schools are “a big cause for concern” and “could have life-threatening implications. [Measles] can spread from within that context of a low rate into the larger community.”

So, where should you be particularly concerned about sending your child? Predictably (Waldorf schools are often notoriously anti-vaccine), two Waldorf schools fared poorly; the Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side, which had a vaccination rate of 74.7 percent, and Clinton Hill’s Brooklyn Waldorf, which clocked in at just 60.1 percent. At Brooklyn Free (a Summerhill school), 63.3 percent of students had been properly vaccinated, and at their sister school in Manhattan, 36.4 percent.

Of course, these schools and others dispute the numbers, generally claiming that they’re compliant with the law, but this kind of thing can be skirted by parents claiming either medical exemptions, or, more frequently, using the loophole of a religious exemption, the validity of which only has to be approved by the school in the case of private institutions.

Elsewhere, in public schools, no district falls below the “herd-immunity threshold” of 95 percent, and the average rate of immunization is “above 98 percent.”

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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