Enrolling Your Kid in Summer Camp? Better Get That Measles Vaccination

This year’s measles outbreak has prompted many summer camps to tighten their rules on vaccinations for campers as well as employees.

Summer camps provide children with a chance to explore nature and learn new skills. Getty Images

School’s out — and summer camp might be, too, for some young people who don’t have vaccinations.

Measles outbreaks around the United States are prompting some camp operators to adopt stricter vaccination rules while others are considering the possibility.

Since a resurgence of the highly infectious respiratory disease in New York state eight months ago, the virus has spread to 26 states from Maine to California, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source (CDC).

The 940 measles cases identified so far this year exceeds every annual total since 1994. Outbreaks — defined as three or more incidences of the disease — currently exist in 10 regions of the country.

The virusTrusted Source spreads via airborne droplets and contaminated surfaces if someone coughs or sneezes, infecting up to 90 percent of those nearby who aren’t immune.

The symptoms include fever, coughing, a runny nose, sore throat, and a rash all over the body. There’s no medication that kills the virus, so the illness must run its course once it infects somebody.

The New York City YMCA, which runs dozens of day camps as well as an overnight camp, has long required that youngsters as well as employees be vaccinated.

Many other camps, however, follow the immunization laws in their state that allow certain exceptions for public school students.

All states make provisions for medical exemptions and nearly all also waive required vaccinations for religious reasons or philosophical grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Until the outbreaks, the 400 camps belonging to the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey generally accepted campers who hadn’t been vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, Susie Lupert, the organization’s executive director, told Healthline.

Now, however, some county health departments in those two states are telling camps they no longer can make exceptions — and they have the authority to issue that mandate because they license camps, Lupert said.

Tightening camp vaccination rules

New York’s Rockland County, one of the hardest-hit regions in the country with 254 confirmed cases of measles as of this week, is among those bringing down the hammer.

Scott Dunn, director of programming at The Nature Place Day Camp, received word from the county late last week that all campers and staff must have two doses of the vaccine. On Tuesday, administrators alerted the families of already enrolled children to the new policy.

“Just a handful” of the approximately 300 children who attend the seven-week camp have shown up in the past without vaccinations, Dunn told Healthline.

But this year, those who aren’t inoculated will miss out on the chance to learn about nature by exploring 200 acres of fields, forests, orchards and gardens.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for camps in neighboring Westchester County, where government officials haven’t mandated vaccinations for all who attend.

The county instead emailed all camp operators, strongly recommending that campers and employees get the required vaccinations. It also indicated that if one someone at the camp did contract measles, the county would require under-vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals to leave until they had been cleared to return.

In Clark County, Washington, 71 people came down with measles this year before public health officials last month declared the outbreak was over.

That was welcome news for the hundreds of children expected to attend the six day camps the city of Vancouver that launch on June 17.

Julie Hannon, the city’s park and recreation director, told Healthline there’s currently no need to tighten the policy, which makes vaccinations optional when registering for camp.

Parents who are uncertain

In the Puget Sound region of Washington, Rachel Nevaril says she’s uncertain whether her son will enjoy four days away at camp this summer as he has done the past two years.

She lives in one of three counties in the region affected by the measles outbreak in early May. Her son has had only one vaccination.

Although getting the second shot would eliminate any doubt about going to camp, Nevaril told Healthline that her son began regressing in his development after his first vaccination. He eventually was diagnosis with autism and at age 18 remains nonverbal.

Fearing her child might lose more ground by becoming fully vaccinated, Nevaril has sought medical exemptions ever since.

She says if summer camp officials insist her son be fully protected, he’ll be staying home.

“The benefits don’t outweigh the risks for him. I’m not willing to take the chance,” Nevaril said.

In Southern California, some parents are also in limbo.

Andy Kimmelman, the owner/director of Tumbleweed Day Camp in Los Angeles, says that historically about 98 percent of the 1,100 children who attend his nine-week camp are immunized, reducing the risk of exposure to the rest.

But now he’s telling parents if the outbreak in Los Angeles County worsens, they might not be allowed to register their unvaccinated child.

Ten had been reported in the county as of May 22, according to the CDC.

“This is definitely something we’re thinking about,” Kimmelman told Healthline.