In the wake of eight recently reported cases of measles in Cook County and a larger measles outbreak in California, a local state legislator is sponsoring a resolution in the Illinois General Assembly urging the Illinois Department of Public Health to make it harder for parents to opt out of getting their school age children vaccinated.
State Representative Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) introduced the resolution on Monday in Springfield.
“It simply urges the Department of Public Health to tighten up the criteria for opting out of a vaccination,” Zalewski said.
Currently, a host of vaccinations, including one for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), are required before a child can attend school in Illinois. But parents can opt out of the vaccinations by simply checking a box on a form saying that they have a religious or personal reason for not wanting to have their child vaccinated.
Medical exemptions are also allowed. Doctors recommend that children with weakened immune systems, such as kids undergoing chemotherapy, not be vaccinated.
“You can pretty much opt out citing a religious exemption or a general discomfort exemption, and we want that to be a lot more narrow in nature,” Zalewski said. “More importantly, the Department of Public Health wants it to be much more narrow in nature so we want to help them do that.”
Zalewski said that he wants the Department of Public Health to issue new rules. He didn’t say what exactly those rules should be.
Vaccination rates at local schools are generally high, but not as high as some would like.
In Riverside Elementary School District 96, there are 34 children, or about 2 percent of all students, who have not received the measles vaccine, said Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis.
According the figures compiled by the state, Ames School has the lowest vaccination rate in District 96 with 95.5 percent of Ames students having been vaccinated against measles in the 2013-14 school year. At Ames, 17 children in 2013-14 have not been vaccinated.
At Central School 97.9 percent of students had received the measles vaccination in 2013-14 and only nine had not. At Blythe Park 97.6 percent of students had received the measles vaccine in 2013-14, while at Hollywood School 96.5 percent of students were vaccinated and at L.J. Hauser Junior High School 98.2 percent.
This year at Brook Park School in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, there are 12 students out of 727, or 1.3 percent of students, who have not been vaccinated against measles. One student at Brook Park this year is not vaccinated because of medical reasons, District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said.
Six Brook Park families cited religious reasons while five just cited personal reasons for not getting their child vaccinated, Kuzniewski said. One student at S.E. Gross Middle School this year has not been vaccinated against measles.
“We respect the parents’ opinions to not have a child vaccinated based on religious and certainly on medical rationale,” Kuzniewski said. “However, we try and do our best to keep the school safe, and having students vaccinated is the best way to keep all students safe.”
At Congress Park School in Brookfield, 98.5 percent of students this year have received the measles vaccine with six students remaining unvaccinated, Principal Terry Dutton said.
The Landmark could not obtain figures for Lincoln School in Brookfield prior to press time.
One hundred percent of students at Komarek School in North Riverside have been received the measles vaccine this year, according to District 94 superintendent Neil Pellicci.
Pellicci said at Komarek parents are warned in the spring that if their kids are not vaccinated, they will not be allowed to attend the first day of school. Of course, they can always cite a religious or personal reason for not getting their child vaccinated.
“We used to give them time to do it, and then we would fight with parents and it really was a big mess,” Pellicci said.
At Riverside-Brookfield High School, 99.4 percent of students this year have been vaccinated against measles. Only 10 RBHS students have not received the vaccination. Of the 10 non-vaccinated students, nine cited religious reasons and one cited a personal reason, RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana said.