Thirty-six students at the Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina have contracted chickenpox, as of Monday.
Although North Carolina requires vaccinations for all children attending schools, the state permits medical and religious exemptions. The state only sees about 1.2% religious exemptions kindergarteners. Last year, Asheville Waldorf kindergarten class had the highest percentage of religious exemptions in the county, Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the Buncombe County Medical Director told CNN.
In response to the outbreak, Asheville Waldorf School is requiring anyone with the chickenpox to stay home, CNN reports. Classmates of contagious children must also remain home for 21 days — the period of time it can take to show symptoms — unless they are vaccinated.
Chickenpox is not a dangerous illness but it is extremely contagious and uncomfortable — it causes a blister-like rash, itchiness, tiredness, and fever.
The chickenpox vaccine is 90% effective and can reduce one's chance of getting the virus. People who get the shot may still get the chickenpox, but their symptoms are typically more mild, according to the CDC.
"We want to be clear: vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox," Dr. Mullendore said in a statement. "Two doses of varicella vaccine can offer significant protection against childhood chickenpox and shingles as an adult."
"When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community - into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams," she said.
Most children make a full recovery from chickenpox within 10 days. However, the virus can pose a greater risk of complications for those under a year old, pregnant mothers, and people with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.
Among the 36 children diagnosed with chickenpox, no hospital visits or complications have been reported, according to Dr. Mullendore.
The vast majority of parents do not hesitate to vaccinate their children. However, widespread misconceptions about the safety of vaccines deters some parents from vaccinating their children, which puts entire communities at risk. Even though these fallacies have been widely debunked, and doctors argue that all children should be vaccinated, these parents sometimes choose to follow an alternative vaccine schedule, in which vaccines are spread out, or exempt their children from vaccines altogether.
According to a Pew Research study, 88% of Americans believe that the benefits of vaccinating their children for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) outweighs the risks. Meanwhile, 10% of believe that the risks of the MMR vaccine outweigh its benefits, CNN reports.
Vaccines are key for preventing the spread of chickenpox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, and other viral infections.