BOSTON (CBS) – Recent cases of whooping cough and measles in the Bay State have many wondering what is bringing these diseases back. WBZ-TV’s I-Team found out some schools are not complying with the law when it comes to making sure students are protected from potentially deadly illnesses.
“I need vaccines to attend school,” said 18-year-old Karen Sosa in her native Portuguese. She was one of hundreds of unvaccinated Massachusetts students who fall through the cracks. “It’s very difficult, very expensive to pay for vaccines.”
Another student, Grace Ansong, said the school nurse told her she’d have to stay home if she doesn’t get the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles. It’s more important than ever for her to attend school, she said, “Because I’m graduating this year.”
“Measles is a deadly virus and it’s super contagious,” said Dr. Ari Cohen. According to the CDC, if one infected person is close to ten people who are not immunized, nine of those ten would get it.
“You could have a patient that has active measles in a room. That patient leaves the room, another person comes in the room within the next two hours, and then they’re affected by the disease,” said Cohen.
Last month, a Boston resident was the third person diagnosed with it in Massachusetts this year, and state officials say suspected measles cases have tripled.
“You cannot enroll in school if you’re not vaccinated. That’s the law,” said Framingham Public Health Director, Dr. Sam Wong. But there are exceptions, like if a student gets a medical or religious exemption.
While there’s a passionate debate about whether vaccines are safe, when the I-Team dug into health records in Massachusetts, the biggest number of unimmunized students did not have exemptions. Suffolk County has the most, falling well below what’s called “herd immunity”, which is the number thought to provide the best protection within a population.
“When a group of unvaccinated people gets big enough, they’re much more susceptible to getting infected,” said Dr. Cohen.
At Thomas Kenny Elementary School in Dorchester, records show last year, 68% of kindergarteners had no immunization documents. In a statement, Boston Public Schools blamed it on a “data-tracking error that has since been rectified.”
Boston Public Schools said Kenny Elementary has been working on the issue, and will be reporting 99% compliance this year.
The City of Framingham runs a free vaccination clinic working to close the gap. School nurses send kids who haven’t been vaccinated. Some have no health insurance, others don’t have a pediatrician.
“We have one of the highest vaccination rates of school-aged children in the state,” said Wong.
If you want to see how your school stacks up, check the State Health Department’s list.