North Carolina sees worst chickenpox outbreak in 20 years — at a school with high vaccine exemption rates

North Carolina is experiencing the state's largest chickenpox outbreak since 1995, when the vaccine against the virus became widely available, reports The Washington Post.

The outbreak hit Asheville (N.C.) Waldorf School, which comprises children in preschool school to sixth grade. The private school first reported about a dozen chickenpox cases in early November, which quickly spiked to 36 infections as of Nov. 16, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

The publication said Asheville Waldorf has one of the state's highest religious exemption rates for vaccinations. During the 2017-18 school year, 19 of 28 kindergarteners enrolled at the school had a religious exemption for at least one required vaccination, according to state HHS data cited by Citizen Times. In addition, 110 of the school's 152 students did not receive the chickenpox vaccine.

"The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent's decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school," the school said in a statement to Blue Ridge Public Radio.

Jennifer Mullendore, MD, medical director of Buncombe County, N.C., highlighted the importance of vaccinating children in a press release cited by The Washington Post.

"We want to be clear: Vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox," she said.

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