The “happiest place on earth” was the last place people would think of as a breeding ground for disease. As wide-eyed children bounced along the busy paths cutting through Disneyland in Annaheim, California, they were completely unaware that every touch, shoulder bump or brief brush against another person was a chance for contracting a serious disease — the measles.
In January, someone who had been exposed to measles before traveling to Disneyland spread measles all the while enjoying the amusement park.
Measles symptoms do not show up until eight to 10 days after being exposed to the disease. Anyone unvaccinated or who had not previously had measles was at risk.
In the past three months, 42 states have reported measles cases that can be traced back to Disneyland, according to Kristina Henderson, a registered nurse with the Henderson County Health Department.
The outbreak of measles isn’t the only recent instance of a recurrence of a disease for which there is a vaccination. Henderson County has recently seen an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough).
According to Henderson, vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise as a growing number of parents are choosing not to immunize their children for a number of reasons.
“In 2008 there were 300 cases of pertussis in Western North Carolina, but in 2013 that number doubled,” Henderson said.
According to Henderson, some people are afraid of the pain associated with vaccinations. “This fear leads parents to question whether vaccines are safe,” Henderson said. “So if there is a possibility that pain from immunizations can be avoided a lot of people are going to opt for that because they do not see the importance that vaccines do for the community.”
According to Kim Berry, the Henderson County school nurse supervisor, vaccines provide a major benefit for the community. If everyone in the community has been vaccinated, the community is said to have “herd immunity.”
“Herd immunity will protect everyone, even the unvaccinated, because no one is getting sick,” Berry said. “But if there’s a larger percentage that is not getting vaccinated it takes away that herd immunity and that puts everyone at risk.”
Some so-called anti-vaxxers are getting false information online and believing it. For example, former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who became famous for saying that autism is caused by vaccinations, is no longer accepted in the field of medicine because of his flawed research. His sample size was too small to support his conclusions.
“People educating others through the Internet sometimes don’t have a background in health or science to give someone the perspective as a credible source of information,” Henderson said. “Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license, yet parents still look up to him for advice.”
The number of people being vaccinated varies between counties. Henderson County has a higher rate of vaccinated residents than the North Carolina average.
“More than 70 percent of Henderson County residents are up-to-date with their vaccines, but the statewide county average is at 69 percent,” Henderson said.
Although most students at West are vaccinated, some aren’t. North Carolina allows students be exempt from vaccinations for medical and religious reasons.
“I feel like the more vaccines you get the more harm you do to your body. In the olden days, they survived without vaccinations or medications,” sophomore Haley Clark said. “I believe vaccinations are a personal choice.”
Although Clark doesn’t like the state requirement to have vaccinations, she did have the ones required to attend school.
The age for when certain vaccines are given is changing this fall. There are only slight changes for rising kindergartners, but the biggest changes are going to be for the upcoming seventh graders.
“They changed the requirement for the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine to be given to seventh graders instead of sixth graders,” Berry said. “They are also adding the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against meningitis, to be given to seventh graders. Starting their senior year they will have to get another dose.”
These changes are being made to better protect students from disease. “You are more likely to get in a car accident on the way to get a vaccination than to get a bad reaction from a shot,” Henderson said. “When you look at the big picture of the whole community, it is safer for everyone to be vaccinated.”
By Kierstin Woodring