Unfortunately for Juniper, her mom doesn’t believe in vaccines. South_agency/Getty
Asheville, North Carolina—a bucolic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains where both the popular 20th-century novelist Thomas Wolfe and the unpopular 21st-century blogger Katie Herzog were born—recently made headlines after almost a quarter of students at one private school came down with chicken pox because so few of the parents vaccinate their children. Don’t you just love it when your hometown is in the news?
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, a Waldorf School (surprise) is at the heart of the outbreak, which is the largest in North Carolina since a vaccine went on the market over 20 years ago. Of the Waldorf School’s 152 students, 36 have so far come down with the disease and a full 110 members of the student body are not vaccinated. The state Department of Health and Human Services tracks rates of unvaccinated children, and at that particular school, 19 of the 28 children enrolled in kindergarten during the 2017-’18 school year were exempted from at least one vaccination. With nearly 70 percent of students forgoing vaccinations at their parents’ request, that’s an even lower vaccination rate than on Vashon Island, where nearly a quarter of students didn’t get their shots in 2015.
Religious exemptions for vaccines aren’t new—some Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other religious groups have been refusing to vaccinate their kids for decades—but exemptions for non-religious ideological reasons are increasing, particularly in places like Asheville, where the biggest social event of the week is the Friday evening drum circle in Pritchard Park. The parents of these unvaccinated children may be more likely to go to bottomless kombucha brunch than church on Sundays, but under North Carolina state law, all you have to do is claim vaccinations are against your religion and little Arlo and Ocean are free to attend both public and private schools shot-free. In Washington state, you don’t even have to pretend to be religious to get an exemption: You can opt your children out of vaccines for any personal reason, including because your reiki healer Indigo sent you an article from VaccinesCauseAutism.com.
Religious or not, many anti-vaxxers do have something in common with religious zealots: a distrust of established science. We often think of conservatives, not liberals, as being anti-science—just look at the White House, where the dude currently occupying the Oval Office thinks climate change is a hoax and the answer to California wildfires is to leaf-blow the forests—but the left has our blind spots too. Anti-vaxxers are certainly on the fringes of accepted belief, but plenty of people who believe in climate change and evolution and the Big Bang theory also believe that biological sex is a social construct and that GMOs are inherently harmful even though empirical evidence tells us they’re not (and, in some cases, can even do good). Fortunately, refusing to eat GMOs or acknowledge chromosomes won’t kill anyone. Refusing to vaccinate your child, however, certainly could.
Parents, if you like your kids, take note.