RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — There are vaccine requirements for all students entering public school for the first time, however, CBS North Carolina found the state has two exemptions, allowing thousands of students to enroll and the numbers have more than doubled in recent years.
It’s possible that the one reported case of whooping cough at Apex High School will spread because whooping cough is highly contagious.
The symptoms, according to Dr. Michele Casey of Duke Health are similar to the flu.
“As it progresses, usually about the two-week mark, we start to see a significant increase in the cough to the point (when) it produces that whoop that you characteristically hear with this cough.”
Before the development of the vaccine in the 1940s, whooping cough killed 9,000 people every year. The current vaccine which is good for 10 years will protect 95 to 98 percent of those properly vaccinated. However, not everyone is getting vaccinated.
North Carolina law allows two vaccination exemptions for school-age children: medical and religious.
The CBS North Carolina investigative team found that this year there are 174 kindergartners with medical exemptions and another 2,073 with non-medical exemptions enrolled in North Carolina schools. The records obtained from the state also show that there could be more than 8,000 unvaccinated children in grades kindergarten through 5.
Unvaccinated students could be putting others around them at greater risk of contracting whooping cough or other diseases, Casey said.
“They are certainly putting anyone around them at risk and that includes elderly grandparents, babies (and) anyone that has not quite gotten all the vaccines they need if they have this illness — they are very likely to spread it (because it is) very contagious,” Casey said.
The medical exemption requires a doctor to complete a form while the religious exemption does not require a form or a signature from a religious leader.