SARASOTA (WWSB) - If you live in Sarasota County, your kids are among the highest percentage of unvaccinated kindergartners in all of Florida.
Though it’s required by law that any student in the state schools are vaccinated, there are ways to opt out.
So what can you do to protect your children?
Bringing a child into the world is a beautiful thing, but it can also be scary, especially when a parent is bringing them into an area with one of the highest risks of disease, come kindergarten.
“As a parent, you immediately alarm yourself,” said Bridget Ziegler.
Ziegler isn’t just a Sarasota County School Boardmember, she’s also a soon to be mother of three.
“My children are vaccinated, but with my newest newborn, which will be here in a month or so, you can’t vaccinate them for a couple of months and there’s a major risk for them as newborns anyway,” Ziegler explained.
Though she and her husband decided to vaccinate their children, Ziegler has several friends who chose not to.
“There are a lot of people who choose not to for a myriad of reasons and that does pose some potential risks and I think my job as a parent is then to just be aware of those exposures and ensure safety of my children in the best way possible,” said Ziegler.
Education has been her biggest asset and it’s the first thing Dr. Carolyn Bayindiryan recommended for all parents, too.
“Bring your children to the pediatrician, or any physician who takes care of children, and get recommendations to getting them vaccinated," said Dr. Bayindiryan, physician with Sarasota Memorial Hospital. "These children are very vulnerable to diseases, very highly contagious viruses such as the measles and these diseases can be prevented with vaccinations.”
A measles outbreak in Sarasota County last month has been contained to four children in the same family unit, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“Measles is such a rare disease for us that we would consider even a single case an outbreak," explained Michael Drennon, disease intervention services program manager for the Sarasota County Department of Health. "So we had four cases and in all four situations the children were unvaccinated.”
Though vaccinations are mandated for every school district in the Florida, there are ways around them.
The DOH said the reason for Sarasota County’s high unvaccinated rate?
“We have a high religious exemption use in the county," said Drennon. "I can’t guess or speculate why we have that, but we know that is the driving factor leading to our high unvaccination rates.”
Sarasota County has just under 3,200 kindergarten students and only 90 percent of them were vaccinated in 2018. Officials recommend at least 95 percent.
The statistics show about 230 of those 3,200 were given a religious exemption.
“So as long as we don’t meet that threshold, we are at increased risk of the spread of a disease in our community,” said Drennon.
“Some parents think vaccines do more harm than good," said Dr. Bayindiryan."They are claiming of chemicals and heavy metals in these vaccines and [there are] parents who think vaccinated children are actually more unhealthy than the unnvacinated ones.”
Though she understands there are many who exercise their right not to vaccinate, as a mother and physician, Dr. Bayindiryan is urging them to reconsider.
“It’s very frustrating," she said. "There are a large group of anti-vaccinators all over the country, not just in the state of Florida and like I said, you can talk to these families until you’re blue in the face, but if they decide not to, they wont..”
Because of medical reasons, she also acknowledges that some can’t, which is why every parent should be well-informed of how to protect their family from infections.
For more information from the CDC about vaccinations and what to do if you choose not to vaccinate, click here.
For more information about vaccinations from the Sarasota County Florida Department of Health, click here.