The ongoing measles outbreak has resulted in a surge of discussion about student vaccination requirements and exemptions, but less attention has been given to another group in classrooms. Very little has been said about teachers and staff members who, for the most part, are not required to be vaccinated.
In fact, most states have no regulations requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated, nor do they have direction as to which vaccinations they should be receiving. A list of recommended vaccinations is provided in some states, but there is no method in place to discover if teachers follow up on these directives.
Christine Armario of the Associated Press reports that when a measles case occurred at a California high school, there was no protocol for officials to review immunization records for employees. All 24 teachers and the staff members who were exposed to the employee with measles had to verify their immunity. In some cases, the records required were decades old.
In the end, most of the people who contracted measles at Disneyland in December, which has now spread to six other states and Mexico, were not vaccinated. As of last week, 114 people, according to officials, had contracted the disease.
"I was definitely shocked," Rep. Joanna Cole, a Democrat in the Vermont Legislature, said when she learned in 2012 that there were no teacher vaccination requirements in her state. There are still no requirements today. "I guess we all just assumed that they would have them."
Most of those who fell ill in the recent outbreak were adults, and schools are on the top of the list of places where communicable diseases are spread. In Vermont, Rep. George Till (D-Jericho) says lawmakers are trying to do away with philosophical exemptions for students and are pushing for establishing the requirement for teachers to be current on the same immunizations that students receive.
In Colorado, pro-vaccination groups are working to require workers at child-care facilities to be vaccinated. Cases of measles have been reported at day care centers in Chicago and Santa Monica, California.
Barbara Loe Fisher, director of the National Vaccine Information Center, a Virginia-based nonprofit that favors letting parents decide whether to vaccinate, says her group has concerns about forcing teachers and child care workers to be vaccinated because of personal safety issues and job protection for those who refuse to be vaccinated.
Payton Guion writes in the UK's Independent that the US eliminated measles in 2000, meaning that the country went for 12 months without continuous transmission of the disease. Those who are against vaccinating children are, in many cases, those who fear the vaccines can cause developmental disorders, like autism.
"I will be surprised if we don't see some changes in the next year to year and a half," Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of School Boards of Education, told the AP.
A commentary in The Sacramento Bee written by Ellen Cochrane discusses how a case of measles for an adult can be life-threatening. It started for Cochrane, who was then working for the American Embassy in Moscow, with a runny nose, swollen glands, and red eyes. Next came a 104 degree temperature. It was 1988, and Moscow hospitals were providing inadequate care, yet she couldn't be medevac-ed to Finland because she couldn't walk to the plane.
Finally, she got to a doctor at the French Embassy where they discovered Cochrane had a case of adult measles even though she had been vaccinated. She later found out that the CDC recommended two doses of the measles vaccine for adults who traveled internationally.
Although she could have died, she was left with partial permanent hearing loss. Cochrane wants others to know that unvaccinated children who are under 12 months old, undergoing cancer treatment, or are HIV positive are at greater risk because they cannot have the measles vaccine. Unvaccinated children spread the disease to children who cannot be vaccinated.
She agrees with state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Ben Allen (D-26th District), who proposed that California join the 32 states that do not have school exemptions from vaccinations in order to "eradicate these plagues".