JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax investigation uncovers a spike in unvaccinated children in several local school districts.
Parents can opt out of vaccinations, but many doctors warn the more children who aren't protected, the greater risk of an outbreak.
Action News Jax investigator Letisha Bereola spent months combing through the data and pinpointed which schools have the highest percentage of unvaccinated children.
PREVIOUS INVESTIGATION: Which schools in Duval, St. Johns counties have the most unvaccinated children?
Protecting their child is a parent’s top priority. But with the large amount of contradictory or incorrect information online about the safety of vaccines, making smart choices for their safety can be tricky.
"It causes all kinds of problems. It causes tumors and stuff. That's what we are hearing and finding on the internet. That's the reason we opted out," one father told us.
But that’s not true, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Vaccines are safe, rigorously tested and constantly monitored by scientists for any sign that they may cause harm, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Mobeen Rathore, the chief of pediatric and infectious diseases at Wolfson Children's Hospital says "Vaccines are God's gift to children," Rathore said.
New numbers we obtained from school districts in Duval and St. Johns counties show more parents are choosing to opt their children out of state-required vaccinations.
Duval County saw a 16.1 percent increase in unvaccinated children compared to last school year.
The number went from 986 kids to 1,145. That's one percent of the entire student body left unprotected.
In St. Johns County, the number went up 15.8 percent. The district is one-third the size of Duval's district, but has nearly as many unvaccinated children. The number is up to 895, from 782 last year. That breaks down to 2.28 percent of students in St. Johns County who are unvaccinated.
"An unimmunized child in a school or in the community is not only themselves at a significant risk if the infection occurs, but they also increase the risk of the other people at the school," Rathore said.
In Duval County, the schools with the highest percentage of unvaccinated children are J. Allen Axon Elementary School, with 5.3 percent, and Atlantic Beach Elementary (5.7 percent). Both were above five percent.
In St. Johns County, 9.2 percent of the student body at R.B. Hunt Elementary School is unvaccinated. One local mother thinks false information is behind the surge.
"I have a son that has autism and I feel like parents have heard misinformation that vaccines could cause neurological issues," Jill Carley said.
"There's absolutely no evidence. Let me repeat that. There's absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause autism. This has been studied over and over and over and over again," Rathore said.
Disease outbreaks still happen. In the U.S., there was a spike in mumps cases last year. College campuses were especially hit hard. The MMR vaccine protects against measles and mumps.
Cox Media Group