MIDDLEBURY — Students attending Middlebury schools who are not vaccinated by the end of Thursday for the chicken pox will have to stay out of school for up to three weeks because of a chicken pox outbreak in the school corporation.
Elkhart County’s Health Officer Dr. Dan Nafziger said that the school corporation had reported 13 cases to the health department with the initial case reported on Nov. 11. The state defines an outbreak as 3 or more cases in individuals older than 13 years old or five or more cases in individuals younger than 13 years old, he said. The cases are concentrated at Middlebury Elementary, Heritage Intermediate and Northridge Middle School.
Chicken pox, caused by the virus varicella-zoster, is highly contagious and a vaccine is required before starting school with a second vaccine by sixth grade.
Middlebury Superintendent Jim Conner said that there are around 550 students in Middlebury Community Schools who are not up-to-date with the required varicella vaccines. The majority of those, Conner said, are students who have not yet received their second vaccine in sixth grade. Others have not been vaccinated on religious grounds.
According to the Indiana Department of Health’s website, parents who do not want their children immunized for school must provide a written objection to the school each year the child is enrolled.
The health department is holding clinics in Middlebury schools Thursday for students to be vaccinated. Those who are not vaccinated at the clinic or otherwise, will not be able to attend school for three weeks following the most recent case of chicken pox, Nafziger said.
Chicken pox has an incubation period of 10 to 21 days, he said, and while many people experience symptoms in the second week, many do not until the third week. Schools will be expected to enforce the health department’s recommendation, he said.
Conner said that he thought 12 of the 13 reported cases were still ongoing, so that students not vaccinated will not be able to attend school beginning today.
Conner said he knows several parents are upset and will not have their children vaccinated because of religious or personal beliefs about vaccinations.
“It was not our call and I have to say I agree with the parents,” he said.
Conner said he feels that the policy goes against individual rights and religious freedom.
“This is totally a call by the state of Indiana and by big brother over in the health department,” Conner said.
Nafziger said that the policies are “not meant to be mean or disrespectful, but to protect people.”
“The parents have the right in this country not to vaccinate their children and I respect that,” Nafziger said, “but when they do that they’re putting other children at risk who maybe don’t have a choice or who can not handle a case of the chicken pox.”
Nafziger said similar outbreaks with similar follow-through policies have occurred in other school districts in the state but not in Elkhart County since he began as County Health Officer two years ago.