One of New Mexico’s largest public school districts, spurred by a measles outbreak that has infected about 100 people in California, will start barring unvaccinated students from class unless they have a valid state exemption, the head of the school board said on Friday.
The move by the 14,000-student Santa Fe district came as legislators in California, Oregon and Washington state are considering laws to make it harder for parents legally to opt out of vaccinating school-aged children. Bills in several other states would loosen restrictions.
The Santa Fe district notified parents this week that any students who lack up-to-date vaccinations or bona fide state waivers for medical or religious grounds will be barred from class starting on Feb. 17, board President Steven Carrillo said.
District officials have not determined how many Santa Fe public school children are unvaccinated and how many have already obtained waivers. Some schools are known to be at 100 percent compliance, others at 60 percent, Carrillo said.
The board’s action comes as New Mexico has documented a steady rise in the number of vaccine exemptions obtained by school-aged children during the past two years, up 17 percent from 2012 to 2014 to a total of 3,335 waivers.
Kenny Vigil, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, said the total still represents less than 1 percent of school-aged children statewide, though the department has voiced concern over the trend.
“An increase in vaccination exemptions can increase the risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles,” the department says on its website.
Only one case of measles has been confirmed in New Mexico so far this winter, an unvaccinated baby who was hospitalized with the highly contagious disease in December and has since recovered, Vigil said. It was the first case since 2012.
The origin of the child’s infection is unknown, he said, but the case was unrelated to the California outbreak because the onset occurred in late November, before the first infection in California’s Disneyland is believed to have occurred.
Even so, “the impetus (for Santa Fe’s action) was obviously the measles outbreak in California,” Carrillo said, adding that other New Mexico districts would likely follow suit.
California public health officials report 99 people have been diagnosed with measles in the state, many of them linked to exposure to an infected person from outside the country who visited Disneyland in late December.
More than a dozen other cases have been confirmed in 19 other U.S. states and Mexico, renewing debate over the anti-vaccination movement. Fears about potential side effects of vaccines, debunked by the medical community, have led a small minority of parents to refuse to have their children vaccinated.
In Santa Monica, California, a toddler and infant center that was closed after one baby came down with the virus reopened on Friday under the caveat that all staff and returning children provide proof of inoculation. Fourteen infants deemed too young to be vaccinated must stay home, a spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler)