Number of unvaccinated students in Duval, St. Johns public schools increases

Unvaccinated local school children

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax investigation uncovers a steady rise in the number of local students who are unvaccinated.

Parents in Florida are allowed to apply for religious or medical exemptions.

Marie Walchle stopped getting her children immunized before they entered kindergarten.

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The St. Johns County mother prefers to be called an "ex-vaxxer" rather than an "anti-vaxxer."

She said both of her boys had health complications from immunizations.

Walchle strongly believes it contributed to her son's suicide last year.

"I do believe vaccines are dangerous," Walchle said.

The mother said she would have never gotten her children vaccinated if she had done more research.

Action News Jax has been collecting data for four years on the number of unvaccinated children.

The statistics show the number of parents opting their children out of lifesaving vaccinations is creeping upward in Duval and St. Johns counties.

This school year, 2.65% of students in the St. Johns County School District are not vaccinated.

The year before, it was 2.48%.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 2.28% of students were unvaccinated.

It was 2.07% during the 2016-2017 school year.

In the Duval County Public School District, 1.27% of students are unvaccinated this school year.

During the 2018-2019 school year, it was 1.24%.

It was 1.01% during the 2017-2018 school year.

The year before, .87% were unprotected.

The upward trend is alarming health experts.

"It's unfortunate that some of the children are not being protected against some very serious infections," said Wolfson Children's Hospital Chief of Pediatric and Infectious Disease Dr. Mobeen Rathore.

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Dr. Rathore said unvaccinated children put others whose immune systems are compromised at risk.

The doctor blames unvaccinated people for fueling this year's measles outbreak—one of the worst in decades.

"The measles outbreak nationwide is a tragic situation because this is a disease that should not happen in 2019," Dr. Rathore said.

Doctors said vaccines are vital and proven to be safe.

Dr. Pauline Rolle, the Medical Director for the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, said some parents need more convincing because of misinformation online that claim vaccines cause autism.

"Parents have the right to make choices for their children. There are certain parents who choose not to vaccinate. What I ask is have those conversations with your medical provider. Don't just go based on what you heard on the latest blog," Dr. Rolle said.

Dr. Rolle said she believes access to health care could be connected to the increase in unvaccinated children.

That's why her department offers free vaccines up to the age of 18.

Top 5 Schools in St. Johns County with the Highest Percentage Of Unvaccinated Children:

RB Hunt Elementary: 7.33%

Sebastian Middle: 5.86

Ketterlinus Elementary: 4.82%

Hartley Elementary: 4.38%

Palm Valley Academy: 4.28

Top 5 Schools in Duval County with the Highest Percentage Of Unvaccinated Children:

Atlantic Beach Elementary: 6.1%

J. Allen Axson Elementary: 4.46%

Pine Forest Elementary: 4.31%

Fishweir Elementary: 4.14%

West Riverside Elementary: 3.66%