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3% of students are unvaccinated at Broward school with measles cases, superintendent says

Three percent of the students at a Weston elementary school with a measles outbreak are currently unvaccinated, said Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata during a Broward School Board meeting Wednesday.

Licata told board members that 33 out of the 1,067 students at K-5 school Manatee Bay Elementary don’t have the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, known as the MMR vaccine, for “various reasons” that he didn’t mention.

The MMR vaccine is mandatory to attend all public and private childcare and K-12 schools in Florida, but some students may be eligible for medical or religious exemptions.

Broward County Schools Superintendent Peter Licata is interviewed inside his office at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Licata spoke on the record about his school district potentially repurposing schools with low student enrollment.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Peter Licata is interviewed inside his office at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Licata spoke on the record about his school district potentially repurposing schools with low student enrollment.

Since last Friday, Florida Health Department officials in Broward County have identified six cases of the highly contagious disease at the school, located at 19200 Manatee Isles Drive in Weston.

Since, health officials have offered “several” opportunities to get the vaccine, Licata said. On Wednesday, officials visited the school and planned to stay until 6 p.m. offering to vaccinate school employees, students with parental consent, and their families, he said.

The vaccine is the best protection against the cold-like sickness, according to the state health officials, who say it’s more than 98% effective in preventing infection.

RELATED: Should you worry about measles in South Florida? What to know as school cases found

The school’s 97% vaccinated population is higher than the state average. Overall, Florida reports an about 91% rate of vaccinations against measles, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Immunization data for the 2023-2024 school year wasn’t immediately available. But in the 2021-2022 school year, about 92% of public and private kindergarten students in Broward and Miami-Dade met the immunization requirements, state data shows.

The superintendent visited the Weston school this week and said it was “operating normally” despite “several” student and employee absences.

“The children were learning,” he said. “I thanked the principal and the staff for continuing to educate our children during this time.”

School district responding to Ladapo’s decisions

Licata also said on Wednesday that in a memo issued Tuesday, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo allowed any Manatee Bay student to stay home for up to 21 days because of the outbreak, so the district is working to provide that.

“We are in the process of developing how to ensure there’s continuous learning for families who exercise this option. This will not be virtual learning but will offer a bridge during the 21-day period,” Licata said.

READ MORE: Florida health officials investigating measles outbreak at Broward school. Here’s why

In his memo, Ladapo wrote: “When measles is detected in a school, it is normally recommended that individuals without history of prior infection or vaccination stay home for up to 21 days. This is the period of time that the virus can be transmitted.”

“Because of the high likelihood of infection, it is normally recommended that children stay home until the end of the infectious period, which is currently March 7, 2024. As the epidemiological investigation continues, this date could change,” he added.

Ladapo said that for now, state officials will allow parents to decide whether to send their kids to school or not, but that could change if more cases come up.

READ MORE: Florida official defers to parents on if kids should return to school amid measles cluster

Measles can be transmitted four days prior to the start of symptoms, which include a rash that often develops on the face and neck before spreading to the rest of the body, a high fever, cough, runny nose and red watery eyes.

Ladapo advised all children with symptoms to avoid going to school until they fully subside without medication.

To prevent further infections of the airborne disease, Licata said the school district deep cleaned and changed the air filters at the school campus and the buses in which the students traveled.

In the last decade, Florida has seen 40 confirmed cases of measles, which was was largely eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 following a strong vaccination program, the Herald reported.