Action News Jax Investigates: Dangerous trend of opt-outs ahead of COVID-19 children’s vaccine

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s not clear if local school districts will require students to be vaccinated against coronavirus in the future, as a vaccine has not been approved for young children just yet.

What is clear is that more parents are using exemptions to keep their kids unvaccinated against other highly contagious and potentially deadly viruses.

In an Action News Jax investigation spanning five years, we discovered a dangerous trend and what it could mean for the pandemic.

Measles, Polio and Hepatitis B are among three viruses that schools require children to be vaccinated against, but parents can easily prevent that by filling out a one-page form. “Do you know this school has more vaccination opt outs than any other school in the area?”

Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Martha Kack whose grand daughter goes to Atlantic Beach Elementary school. “Really?” Kack responded.

Action News Jax dug through the public records of every public school in Duval and St. Johns counties.

In Duval, we discovered the percent of unvaccinated students has nearly doubled in the past five years.

Atlantic Beach Elementary leads the way, with 4.5 percent of students who have are opted out of vaccinations.

This comes as widely debunked anti-vaxer claims have gained more acceptance.

“When I tell you that, what do you think?,” Becker asked. “I think they are putting other children at risk,” said Kack.

According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, U.S. children missed nine million vaccine doses in 2020, a decline by as much as 26 percent, compared with 2019, partly because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Action News Jax medical expert Dr. Michele Aquino says there isn’t a Covid-19 vaccine decision for parents to make for their kids. ”We don’t have any vaccines for children for COVID yet,” said Aquino.

COVID-19 vaccine testing began last October in children as young as 12, with testing for children younger than 12 expected to start early this year.

Right now -- only children as young as 16 can get a Covid-19 vaccine.

”What do you tell a parent who is considering not vaccinating their child?,” Becker asked Aquino. “I would ask them why?” responded Aquino.

The anti-vaccination movement has pushed a claim for years that vaccines causes autism, which has repeatedly been proven false.

”Vaccines do not cause autism. That’s all I have to say,” said Aquino bluntly.

In the near future, parents will decide if their child gets a COVID-19 vaccine, to go along with protection from diseases like the measles.

“All of mine have theirs, but that one makes me nervous,” says parent Kristina Larson, who has a son at Atlantic Beach Elementary.

She says while he does have traditional vaccinations, she’s taking a wait-and-see approach on a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s so quick they don’t have enough science behind it yet is my feeling,” says Larson. “Scientists seem to think they do,” said Becker. Even though children usually don’t get very sick from COVID-19, they can spread the virus to others.

As of last week, nearly three million U.S. children have tested positive for the coronavirus according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Action News Jax has made it easy for parents to find out how many unvaccinated children are in Duval and St. Johns County schools.

Just search for the name of the school below.

You can even see the trend-line over the last five years.