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Southeast Wisconsin communities vulnerable to disease outbreaks

CDC: Outbreaks due to unvaccinated populations
Posted at 6:52 AM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 23:23:45-04

MILWAUKEE -- A Children's Hospital of Wisconsin doctors tells TODAY'S TMJ4 outbreaks of deadly diseases will likely make their way to Wisconsin.

State data shows some Wisconsin schools have huge pockets of unvaccinated, or under-vaccinated children. The biggest risk for an outbreak in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


"I think every decision with having a child is a scary decision," said Lorena Terando, a Milwaukee Public Schools parent. Terando tells the I-Team, for her, it was a simple decision. "The science is behind what vaccinations do to protect our kids," she explained.

Not all parents feel the same though. Wisconsin data shows in 2017 more than a quarter of two-year-olds in southeast Wisconsin didn't have all the recommended vaccines. Some schools have fewer vaccinated kids than that.

"It concerns me, but it doesn't surprise me," Terando said.

However, her district, MPS, has a high number of students vaccinated at 89 percent.

These are some of the least vaccinated schools in southeast Wisconsin:

  • Mount Zion Christian in Lake Geneva has 11 percent of students fully vaccinated
  • Mukwonago Baptist Academy has 30 percent
  • Falls Baptist Academy in Menomonee Falls has 31 percent
  • Prairie Hill Waldorf in Pewaukee has just under half its students who have been vaccinated.

The I-Team reached out to all of the schools. Some didn't respond, others chose not to comment. None would give permission to the I-Team to go on their property and speak to parents.

Prairie Hill Waldorf did send some information about their policy. The administrator writes:

  • Prairie Hill Waldorf School, along with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, wish to state unequivocally that our educational objectives do not include avoidance of, or resistance to, childhood immunization. The health, safety, and wellbeing of children is our principal concern.
  • Prairie Hill Waldorf School follows immunization requirements put in place by the Wisconsin State Board of Education. While policy decisions regarding immunizations may vary from school to school, such decisions are made in accordance with legal requirements set by local, state, provincial or federal governments.
  • Prairie Hill Waldorf School encourages parents to consider their civic responsibility in regards to the decision of whether or not to immunize against any communicable disease.
  • Prairie Hill Waldorf School recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school and that it is a decision made in consultation with their family doctor.

State law gives parents the choice to waive vaccines for health, religious or personal reasons.

Some children with compromised immunity can't receive vaccines. Some parents withhold vaccines because they believe they can cause autism. Though, a large study released this month discredits that belief.

The I-Team asked Lyn Ranta, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, if parents who don't vaccinate are putting their kids and others at risk.

"Absolutely," she replied. Ranta believes parts of Wisconsin's law should change.

"Looking at our personal exemption language would be something I really think is something that would be important to do," she said.

She told the I-Team in low-vaccinated schools just one person traveling to an area where outbreaks are ongoing, 90 percent of unvaccinated people would get a disease like measles.

In the United States, outbreaks have been reported in New York, Washington State, Texas and Illinois. Marquette University sent a health advisory to students earlier this year after a reported mumps case. The MMR vaccine provides protection from both diseases.

Jason Boose, another parent of a MPS student, said in a highly populated area like Milwaukee, it's not worth the risk to his kids or his neighbors.

"Your decisions effect everyone else whether you barbecue in your backyard or you vaccinate your children," he said.

Ranta said it's not too late for unvaccinated people to get their vaccines, even if they didn't get them as a small child.