Are Religious Exemptions from Vaccines on the Rise in Your Child’s School?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two Charlotte moms, two little boys, two different worlds when it comes to vaccines.

Lauren Campe says, “I still supported the medical community’s consensus.”

Tara Jackson says, “I don’t trust the science.”

Campe’s now ten-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age two. He, and her two other children, are all fully vaccinated. Campe says: “I felt very confident in the research.”

Jackson’s six-year-old son was diagnosed with dyspraxia recently. He has had three vaccines total. WCCB News @ Ten anchor Morgan Fogarty asked Jackson, “What if your son reaches the age of 18 and decides that he is going to vaccinate? Jackson says, “I would be heartbroken, but it is his body, it is his choice.”

Campe says she rarely hears about anti, or ex, vaxxers in her circles: “It is rare.”
Jackson says she thinks the movement is growing in certain areas: “In specific schools, I feel it’s increasing.”

We turned to the state agency that tracks immunization records: the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. It tracks both medical exemptions and religious exemptions.

The department’s most recent data shows that 49 CMS elementary schools saw an increase in the number of kindergartners with religious exemptions. The three elementary schools with the highest percentage of unvaccinated students based on religious exemptions are Davidson Elementary with 10.6 percent, Torrence Creek Elementary with 10.1 percent, and Park Road Montessori with 6.6 percent.

37 elementary schools saw a decrease in the number of kindergartners with religious exemptions. And 15 saw no change in the number.

“I can’t comment specifically on that data set. But I think what we know is that there are children out there who are not vaccinated, and I think what we’re seeing around the country is an increasing number of vaccine-preventable diseases,” says Dr. Meg Sullivan. She is the Mecklenburg County Health Department Medical Director. Sullivan says while there are no measles currently reported here, “It’s something that we are closely monitoring.” Despite US health officials declaring the measles eliminated in 2000, the disease has made a comeback, partly because of push back against vaccinations.  Sullivan says, “Every single person who can get vaccines, should be vaccinated to protect themselves, and to protect their communities.”

In a world where most vaccine discussions dissolve into screaming matches on social media, all three women we talked to agree on one thing: communication is key. Campe says, “I would just say be informed.” Jackson says, “If a doctor opens up a dialogue, then it’s great, even if they don’t agree with the parent.” And Sullivan says, “I really do believe that individual conversations with somebody’s pediatrician, with their doctor, with somebody that they trust, is really important.”

One last stat: 31 Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools didn’t report any religious exemptions last school year.