Despite stringent state rules that make it difficult for parents to exempt children from immunization, an alarming number of New York City private schools have vaccination rates lower than the 95 percent that officials say is necessary to prevent the spread of measles.
According to state data obtained by Daily Intelligencer, 125 private schools had vaccination rates below 90 percent and 37 schools recorded below 70 percent.
Nine private schools have rates so low that, were they countries, they would qualify among the worst in the world, the Intelligencer reports. The lowest, according to state data, is the Early Learning Center and the Academy of Art in Queens, which has a rate of just 18.4 percent.
The breakdown follows a recent measles outbreak in upper Manhattan, along with parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn. As of two weeks ago, the city confirmed at least 20 cases of the highly infectious disease.
The outbreak prompted an investigation into whether hospitals failed to properly identify measles symptoms quickly enough to prevent it from spreading.
While the city's private schools have an overall immunization rate at 97 percent, experts say the handful of schools with disconcertingly low levels still pose a dangerous threat to children's health, especially as more parents seek to obtain vaccine waivers and anti-vaccinators continue to turn to private schools.
"As more people choose not to vaccinate based on personal belief, our communities are at risk -- we have seen recent outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough throughout the U.S," Kristen A. Feemster argued in a recent debate for The New York Times. "It is prudent policy to limit such exemptions to protect our own and the public’s health."
Led in large part by actress turned activist Jenny McCarthy, the call for personal choice to thump scientific research has thrusted the vaccination debate back into conversation. The movement is also unique in that it transcends economic and political ideology.
Calfornia's Marin County, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States, has also seen a spike in unvaccinated children because of the state's personal belief loophole, Marin News reports.
From 2005 to 2012-2013, the rate at which parents have opted for the waiver nearly doubled, from 4.2 percent to 7.83 percent.