1 Apr 2015

Three large multi-state outbreaks of measles in the US have prompted numerous articles about the need for children to be vaccinated. Many of the articles have been critical of parents who choose not to have their children immunized against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The World Health Organization is recommending that all healthy children should be immunized with the MMR vaccine.

A few NCHE board members have been asked to be interviewed by the news media about homeschool parents and the lack of state regulation regarding immunization. Early in February, I saw a Facebook post titled “NC home-schooled children get free pass on vaccination requirements.” It cited a newspaper article titled “State doesn’t verify whether homeschoolers are vaccinated.” These types of articles imply that we homeschoolers are a health threat in the communities in which we live. What are the real facts?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on measles cases from January 1 through February 20, 2015 has some answers. Measles is a highly contagious disease, and the largest outbreak started in California. As of February 20, a total of 154 cases have been reported, and at the rate it is spreading, the number of cases for all of 2015 could eclipse the record number of 644 cases in 2014. About 15% of those contracting the disease end up in the hospital. Most affected in this outbreak are adults, and the median age is greater than 20. By February 20, there were no cases reported in North Carolina.

All parents in NC are free to opt-out of vaccinations for their children for religious reasons no matter what school their children attend. I believe that homeschool parents are not any different than other parents when deciding to have their children immunized. If a poll was taken, I believe the percentage of homeschool parents taking an immunization waiver would be similar to that of the general population. Every public school, parochial school, private school and homeschool is required to keep records of their students’ immunizations, but none of those schools are required by state law to keep records of the teachers or other adults working with the students. Adults are more likely to travel abroad than are children, and this is a common way to contract these contagious diseases. On January 29, the assistant surgeon general, Dr. Anne Schacht, said “…we assume that someone got infected overseas, visited the parks and spread the disease to others. Infected people in this outbreak here in the US this year have exposed others in a variety of settings including school, day cares, emergency departments, outpatient clinics and airplanes.” The threat is catching the disease not only from other students but also from teachers and other adults in a classroom setting. Because most homeschool students are not regularly exposed to classroom settings, they are less likely to contract or spread measles.

The implication that homeschool students are exempt from immunization requirements and are not having their children immunized is not supported by evidence.

Spencer Mason and his wife, Debbie, homeschooled their four children from birth through high school, starting in 1981. Now their five grandchildren are being homeschooled. Spencer has served on the NCHE board for thirty-three years—serving in several different positions, including twice as president. He now serves as law and policy director where he managed the successful campaign to improve our homeschool law in 2013. Under his leadership, NCHE maintains a respected voice on both sides of the aisle in the legislature. In addition to his board position, he is now serving as the NCHE executive office manager.