ABC Action News Investigates: Which Tampa Bay schools have the most unvaccinated students

Posted at 11:38 PM, Aug 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-07 00:01:21-04

With parents getting ready to send their children back to school, an ABC Action News investigation reveals which local schools have the most unvaccinated students.

Keeping Owen Daugherty healthy has always been an uphill battle.

"He was really, really sick," said his mother, Tyler Daugherty.

The energetic and playful 7-year-old has undergone more surgeries in just a few years than most people do in a lifetime, including a kidney transplant.  

"His body can only fight so much and his body is already fighting the kidney."

Daugherty says that kept Owen from receiving his third MMR vaccine, which helps prevent the spread of measles, mumps and rubella. And with his compromised immune system, even the common cold can send Owen to the ICU.

"The worst would be fatal, or he could lose his transplant," said Daugherty.

This mother now fears going back to school is a serious health risk for her son. 

Through several public records requests - ABC Action News is revealing how many unvaccinated children are enrolled in local schools.

"It's a medical procedure, and it's a known risky medical procedure," Maureen van Hoek.

Maureen van Hoek's two sons both attend Hillsborough County schools.

She made the decision not to vaccinate after her son suffered multiple strokes at age two, she says caused by a vaccine.

"My son is going to need life long care and that is a tragedy," said van Hoek. "If I had the information, I don't know if I would have made the same decisions because where there is risk, there should be choice."

And she's not alone. A growing number of parents across Tampa Bay are opting out of state-mandated immunizations for their children through a religious or medical exemption.

We found more than 2,000 students across Hillsborough county are unvaccinated. That's about one percent of the overall student population.

"It puts not only their own children at risk, it puts other children at risk as well that are vaccinated," said Dr. John McCormick with USF Health.

ABC Action News broke down the data, uncovering which schools have the largest percentages of unvaccinated students.

We found there are 28 at Hammond Elementary, that's about 4 percent of students. And 43 students at Learning Gate Community, which is 5 percent of its student body.

State records show Sarasota County is home to the area's largest number of unvaccinated students. 6.1 percent of all kindergarten students there received a religious exemption.

"It doesn't take but one child with a disease that's contagious to infect many kids at that school," said Dr. McCormick.

More information on vaccination numbers across the state can be found on the Florida Health website.