Juliana Long, Avi Cantor & Sanaa Scott-Wheeler
Ever since Temple’s Mumps outbreak began in March of this year, Philadelphia schools have been forced to confront the issue of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children — and SLA is no exception.
So, what’s the big problem with choosing not to vaccinate your kids? Are there unvaccinated students at SLA? And how does that affect the student body? School Nurse Onnie Kelley explained that having unvaccinated students in the population puts those with autoimmune disorders, who physically can’t get vaccinated, in danger.
“You don’t want those kids to be in jeopardy because of parents who won’t vaccinate their healthy kids,” she said. “It’s just terrible.”
SLA Math teacher Bradford Latimer, who has two elementary school-age children, has experienced this situation on a more personal level. When we asked him if his children were vaccinated, he didn’t hesitate to confirm this. “
They are vaccinated because there are a lot of easily preventable diseases that we’ve eradicated and I feel very very strongly that it’s our responsibility as a society to make sure that those diseases remain eradicated.”
Addressing the “larger community health issue” is another reason why he vaccinates his kids. He doesn’t want these types of diseases reappearing in society when there’s a clear solution to continue their eradication. Mr. Latimer says he worries about kids who physically cannot get vaccinated being in public school because kids around them may not be vaccinated due to their parents’ personal choices.
SLAMedia approached a student we knew to be unvaccinated, but they declined to be interviewed. Seeking answers about the anti-vax community at SLA – or potentially the lack thereof — we turned to Nurse Kelley for more information
Later we found out from her that there actually is a very strong presence of anti-vaccination parents at SLA.
When asked about experiences with SLA parents who refuse to vaccinate their students, she says that “It’s very, very, very hard because I can’t imagine that people that don’t vaccinate in this community don’t love their children. They do, and they have been persuaded by some literature or some philosophy, and you can’t really dispute that.”
She spoke a little bit about specific but anonymous cases of SLA anti-vaccination parents, “Surprisingly, they’re really educated people. They have taken time to think this out, and they’re convinced that they’re on the right side of thinking.”
We asked her about her efforts to educate SLA parents about vaccinations, about which she feels as though there’s only so much she can do, stating that “It’s very, very hard to confront a parent on strong beliefs about their children and I think it needs to be done way above my level.”
She also mentioned that some parents “look down on me and say, ‘Well, you’re just a nurse. What do you know?’ So I try to point people in the right direction, but it usually doesn’t end well.”
Nurse Kelley is solemn about the potential ramifications of not vaccinating.
“As long as the law allows kids without a medical exemption, for just a philosophical exemption, to come to school unvaccinated, there will be parents who are poorly informed and possibly disenfranchised, who do not understand what they’re doing when they don’t vaccinate their children.”
It was made clear to us through these interviews that refusing to vaccinate children is a generally very controversial and harmful decision for parents to make. The health department claimed that it is doing all that they can do to improve this issue at SLA.