Measles shot rate varies widely by school
Measles vaccination rates at schools across the area range from 100 percent to less than 75 percent, with schools at the lower end of that range having more students exempted because of religious objections to getting the shots, state records show.
Numerous public and private schools in the North, Northwest and West suburbs have 100 percent of their students vaccinated as required by state law, according to 2013-14 data from the Illinois State Board of Education.
"I have a lot of confidence in District 21 that we are not going to be affected by measles," said Theresa Rodriguez, health assistant at Wheeling's Oliver W. Holmes Middle School, which has 100 percent of students vaccinated. She credited grade schools in Wheeling Elementary School District 21 with ensuring students are vaccinated before they reach sixth grade.
Five schools in East Aurora School District 131 and seven schools in East Maine Elementary District 63, among others, have 100 percent of students vaccinated against measles.
Other schools have much lower vaccination rates.
Last year at Wheaton's Clapham School, which describes itself as a classical and Christian school, 74.3 percent of 113 students were immunized against measles. Twenty-two students were exempted from vaccination after they filed for religious objections and seven students were unvaccinated and not in compliance with the state law, state records show. Representatives of the school did not respond to several requests for comment.
Students who have religious exemptions are considered to have met state requirements. Illinois also allows exemptions for medical reasons, but it is not one of the 17 states that allows for philosophical, conscientious or personal beliefs exemptions.
Health experts agree that vaccinations are critical for preventing the spread of measles. By the end of last week, 11 cases had been confirmed in the suburbs since Feb. 5.
"The vast majority of suburban Cook County residents have been vaccinated and have a very low risk of contracting the measles," said Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Public Health Department.
Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights had an 83.4 percent measles vaccination rate for the 2013-14 school year, according to state records. Of the 108 students not vaccinated, 44 held religious exemptions and are considered to be complying with state law, one has an approved schedule for getting the required doses of vaccine and 63 were unvaccinated and not in compliance.
The school did not respond to numerous requests for comment, but it offers families a form letter on its website to help claim the religious exemption if they are opposed to vaccinating their children.
"We believe that we cannot willfully go against the law of God, and fully put our trust in Him for our child's health," the form reads.
Contaminating blood with vaccines, the letter says, goes against the Bible's teachings.
At the Montessori Academy of Glen Ellyn, 80 percent of the 72 students were vaccinated against measles. All 14 who were not vaccinated filed religious objections. Representatives of the school also didn't respond to requests for comment.
Some other private schools in the area have larger numbers of students who get exemptions from the vaccine requirements for religious reasons, and some private schools don't report at all, potentially skewing the overall statistics.
While both public and private schools are supposed to follow state immunization standards, nonpublic schools aren't required to report their rates, Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.
Just over 98 percent of Illinois schoolchildren in the schools that report their numbers were immunized against measles for the 2013-14 school year, the state report shows.
Statewide, 13,527 students didn't receive the measles vaccination because of religious beliefs, according to the state numbers. More than 4,000 students are not vaccinated due to medical reasons and 14,040 students are unprotected from the illness and not in compliance with state standards.