Measles Outbreak: Don't Worry, Almost All Miami-Dade Kids Are Vaccinated

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The Disneyland measles horror has been spreading, but Miami-Dade kids, at least, should be protected: 98 percent of public school students are vaccinated, according to Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesperson Daisy Gonzalez-Diego.

"The District is at a solid vaccination rate," Gonzalez-Diego said in a statement, "but we will continue to stress to parents and the health care community the importance of vaccinations so that all our students are properly immunized prior to beginning their school year."

Since a few cases of the insanely contagious, horrible rash-inducing, potentially deadly disease first emerged last month in people who had visited the California theme park, more than 100 new infections have been reported in more than a dozen states -- the most alarming American outbreak of the disease in decades.

See also: Rep. Frederica Wilson Pushes for Federal Vaccination Law

But there's also been another outbreak: Of vigorous national debate -- and frequently asinine commentary, particularly from a select few likely Republican presidential candidates -- over the ethics surrounding vaccinations. The well-known MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) immunizations, typically given in two doses, to children aged 12-15 months and then 4-6 years, are virtually 100 percent effective at preventing infections and are required of students in all 50 states -- unless parents choose to opt out for religious or philosophical reasons, with the law varying slightly by state. (Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states where no religious exemptions are allowed.)

And opt-out parents do -- asserting a right controversially defended by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who recently said, "Parents need to have some measure of choice in things." In California, according to the AP, three percent of all kindergartners statewide were granted exemptions because of their parents' personal beliefs or religion. But in Orange County, home of Disneyland and an apparent abundance of "anti-vaccine" families, as many as 40 percent of kindergartners in some districts have been granted exemptions, the New York Times reported.

In Florida, according to data provided to New Times by the the county health department, the number of parents choosing religious exemptions is lower: Statewide, just short of 4,000 total kindergartners, or 1.7 percent, had the religious exemption certificate for the 2013-14 school year; only one percent of all state 7th-graders had the religious exemption. (93.2 percent of all kindergartners, and 96.6 percent of all 7th-graders, were immunized; the remaining exemptions were temporary or for medical reasons.)

In Miami-Dade County 306 kindergartners -- 1 percent of the district's total -- had the religious exemption for the 2013-14 year, with the ratios were roughly equal among public and private school kids. But the number, echoing a national trend of unfounded vaccination skepticism, has been steadily rising: In the 2011-12 school year, only .6 percent of all county kindergartners had the exemption, and in 2012-13 .7 percent did.

Still, Gonzalez-Diego says the 98 percent overall vaccination rate, for the current 2014-15 year, is the highest the district has ever had. "Since the beginning of the school year," she added, "we have received 1,200 foreign-born students whose immunizations have already been initiated."

Send your tips to trevor.bach@miaminewtimes.com, or follow @trevorbach.

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