July 31, 2019 Update:
As you prepare to send your kids back to school in a few weeks, Orange County leaders are trying to better protect them from contagious viruses.
Orange County has been identified as one of the 25 most at-risk counties for measles in the entire country. Investigative reporter Karla Ray surveyed districts down to individual school levels to see where kids are most at risk, and found some local schools aren't even close to meeting the state's vaccination rate goal.
In completely different Orange County neighborhoods, Engelwood, Catalina and Deerwood Elementary Schools have one major thing in common; the vaccination rates at those schools are among the worst in the district, with less than 81% of kindergarten students being current on their vaccines last year.
"We need to have a minimum number of children vaccinated, because not everyone responds," Dr. Alix Casler said. Casler is the chief of pediatrics for Orlando Health Physician Associates.
Dr. Casler said the number of parents choosing to permanently opt their children out of those vaccines through religious exemptions could put other children at risk, particularly with the 2019 resurgence of measles.
"We rely on herd immunity," Dr. Casler explained. "In other words, a minimum of 85% or even more people need to have had the shots."
9 Investigates surveyed schools across Central Florida. In data we received from schools in Lake, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties, no traditional elementary or K-8 schools had fewer than 90% of students immunized last year.
In Orange County, however, around 30 schools fell below that range, with some charter schools dipping below 80%.
"We normally pride ourselves in being a leader in so many great things, and this is surprising because it's a public safety issue," Orange County Public Schools board member Karen Castor-Dentel said.
Castor-Dentel raised the issue earlier this year after learning Orange County had the third-lowest vaccination rates in the entire state. Her concern is for students who cannot ever get immunized due to medical issues and therefore rely on their classmates for protection.
"That makes our kids who are susceptible very vulnerable. It's a life or death situation for many of them, and it's not fair," Castor-Dentel said.
Getting a permanent religious exemption is as easy as filling out a form in Florida, and California is the only state that has done away with everything except medical reasons for opting out.
That's a move Dr. Casler wishes would expand to more states.
"We have patients who cannot get live virus vaccines for medical reasons, and that's really the only valid reason not to be vaccinated," Casler said.
If you still need to get your child immunized before school starts, the Department of Health in Orange County is running a free clinic at the West Oaks Mall in Ocoee until August 4.
You can view the Orange County Public Schools elementary vaccination percentage list for the 2018/2019 school year below:
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