CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the United States battles its worst measles outbreak in decades, newly released records show thousands of kindergarteners went to school unvaccinated for measles and other preventable diseases.
In North Carolina, state data show 3.4% of kindergarteners, the equivalent of 3,852 students, were not properly vaccinated within the first 30 days of this school year. That is an improvement over the previous school year where 4.6% were unvaccinated within the first month.
Despite the anti-vax movement, the numbers show schools and parents are making progress. Even so, for the second consecutive year, state records show Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lagged behind its peers with an average compliance of 93.9%.
Records show the struggle is most evident in elementary schools like Starmount Academy of Excellence and Nations Ford, both with less than 50% of students vaccinated within the first 30 days of school, followed by Winding Springs, Huntingtowne Farms and JH Gunn, each with vaccination rates slightly above 70%.
When NBC Charlotte questioned CMS about its lack of compliance last year, the district suggested the numbers were incorrect due to reporting issues.
In the time since, the school district saw its lack of compliance districtwide decrease from 8.1% during the 2017-18 school year to 6.1% this school year.
Kids who aren't up on their shots in the first 30 days technically can't come to school until they are vaccinated. Health experts say the more children who don't have their shots, the greater the risk of outbreaks and the greater the chance of spreading illness to those who have medical and religious exemptions.
While medical and religious exemptions account for less than 2% of students, religious exemptions increased slightly from 1.2% last school year to 1.5% this school year.
"Immunizations are safe, immunizations are effective and immunizations save lives," Mecklenburg County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Meg Sullivan said.
With the last week of school underway, the Mecklenburg County Health Department is expanding shot clinics on Saturdays this summer, the first one later this month, in hopes more kids will get their shots.
"Any time that we hear that immunization rates are high, it's good news," Mecklenburg County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Meg Sullivan said. "There's always work to do."
The health department has also increased capacity for appointments at all clinics to "handle more appointments each day than ever before."
In addition, its immunization locations at Southeast Health Department, Northwest Health Department, and the Community Resource Center have extended hours on Wednesdays until 6:30 p.m.
The health department plans to open its clinics on the following Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for shots:
- June 22 – Southeast Health Department
- July 20 – Northwest Health Department
- August 3 – Southeast Health Department
- August 17 -Northwest Health Department
- September 7 – Southeast Health Department
- September 14 -Northwest Health Department
- September 21 – Southeast Health Department
Parents can call 704-336-6500 to make appointments for rising kindergarteners and seventh graders to get up-to-date on their shots.