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Chester County Press

Unvaccinated children in area schools are topic of letter sent to community

03/02/2015 12:13PM ● By J. Chambless
Toward the end of the Feb. 17 Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board meeting, board member Steven Simonson asked a question that had some far-reaching implications.
"I was just wondering," he said, "if we had any idea of how many people in our school district chose not to immunize their children against measles."
District superintendent John Sanville nodded and agreed that the question was a timely one. "We know exactly who, in each school, does not have immunization," he said, estimating the number as "in the teens in each building, as I recall. That's five or six percent at the elementary schools. It's less than that at the middle and high school."
While Sanville did not have exact figures prepared at the meeting, the question had already resonated with the administration. "There's a draft of a letter being written now that will go out to families," he told the board. That letter was finished and sent out last weekend to families with children in the district.
"The recent cases of measles around the nation have created concern in our own community," the letter read. "At this time, there have been no cases in UCFSD or Chester County.  However, we want to share information about the policies and procedures for vaccinations and what will happen if there is a case."
At the school board meeting, Sanville admitted that "Measles is coming this way. I think there's a confirmed case in the Harrisburg area. The CDC defines one confirmed case as an outbreak."
Measles is extremely contagious. A December 2014 outbreak at Disneyland spread the disease to more than 100 unvaccinated people, and the disease can have deadly consequences in some cases. 
Ongoing controversy over the measles vaccine has led to a statistically small, but significant, number of families nationwide choosing to leave their children unvaccinated. Despite repeated official reports debunking any link between autism and the measles vaccine, the popular notion that it is dangerous is having far-reaching consequences. 
The letter to parents in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District says that the Pennsylvania Code mandates that students must be immunized against measles and other diseases. "Approximately 97 percent of UCFSD students have received all required vaccinations," the letter states. "The Pennsylvania Code does provide several exemptions to this requirement. In the event of a case of measles, there are specific protocols for any student who has not been vaccinated.  These parents will receive notification requiring that their children be kept home for 14 days. A student who is not properly immunized for measles would be excluded from school until immunized or for 14 days after the last reported case in that school."
While the letter does not sound an alarm about the possible spread of measles, it does address the concerns that families on both sides of the issue are grappling with. The letter provides links to the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic, offering facts about measles, as well as a link to the Chester County Health Department. The county site notes that, "There are currently no confirmed cases of measles, mumps, or rubella in Chester County."
Measles, the site explains, "is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Measles begins with mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and sore throat. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik’s spots) may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after the start of symptoms, a red or reddish-brown rash appears. The rash usually begins on a person’s face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Measles can be transmitted four days before rash onset to four days after rash onset. A diagnosis of measles is confirmed by laboratory testing."
Measles vaccines are provided by the county health department for children ages six months and older. They are available free for uninsured families. 
The letter sent to parents ends with, "The good health and well-being of your children is always first and foremost. Toward that end, we will make sure you are apprised of anything that could impact them."
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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