4 Apr (STATEN ISLAND N.Y.) – Kindergartner FrankieElizabeth Staiti doesn’t have chickenpox, but the illness is keeping her out of school anyway. Her mother says the girl has been banned from class at PS 36 in Annadale for not having received the varicella vaccine, even though her doctor told her mother it would be unsafe to give it to the child. Elizabeth Wagner, FrankieElizabeth’s mom, said her pediatrician won’t give the varicella vaccine to any child living with an infant — and FrankieElizabeth’s sister, Devin Elizabeth Wagner, is just 14 weeks old. That’s because the vaccine uses a small sample of the live chickenpox virus to inoculate against it.
“This has been a complete nightmare,” Ms. Wagner said. “Obviously, if there are some doctors that don’t believe in giving it with a newborn sibling in the home, or any newborn in the house, or a pregnant woman, obviously there’s a reason for that.”
Complicating the matter even further, Elizabeth Wagner has an immunodeficiency disease called hypogammaglobulinemia, and it’s hereditary. Her infant daughter could also have the disease — which would make exposure to the varicella virus even more dangerous — but doctors can’t test her until she’s a year old. The Annadale mother said her daughter’s pediatrician sent a letter and spoke with the Department of Education seeking a medical exemption from the vaccine requirement, explaining he doesn’t inoculate children with newborn siblings, and also citing the possibility that the infant has a compromised immune system. But the request was denied, and Ms. Wagner finds it unbelievable that if she were opposed to the vaccine on religious grounds, her daughter could attend school, but she’s stuck at home because a doctor says it’s unsafe.
“I did think about going that route, but I do believe in immunizations. It’s not that I don’t believe in them. But in this one case, it’s a live virus and I’m not willing to take that chance with my newborn,” Ms. Wagner said. “I don’t care if it’s a 1 in 3 million chance. What happens if my baby is the 1 in 3 million?”
The Department of Education confirmed that the medical exemption was denied.
“We review any request and, when there is uncertainty, consult the [Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] Bureau of Immunization. We also consider the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] recommendation in a particular situation,” spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said in a written statement. “In this case, the medical exemption was denied after a thorough review with the parent and the student’s doctor. A letter was then sent to the parent. Under state law, a student can be excluded from school for not having the required vaccines. The parent may appeal the NYC DOE decision to the state education commissioner.”
To make matters more frustrating, Ms. Wagner said nobody at the school or anyone else she’s spoken to about the vaccines told her she could appeal the decision. Ms. Wagner has spoken to other doctors. Some give the vaccine with a newborn at home and some do not. But she said if some don’t, she’s uneasy about giving it to her child, especially with the possibility of the immune disorder. For now, FrankieElizabeth is stuck at home. Ms. Wagner said she cried when she talked about having to tell her child she couldn’t go back to class. And even though it’s not her choice to keep FrankieElizabeth home, Ms. Wagner learned with a phone call from the school that the girl is being marked absent.
“It’s a nonstop battle, and I’ve been brought to tears I can’t tell you how many times,” Ms. Wagner said. “What happens next? I wait for a truant officer to arrest me because my child’s not going to school?” Ms. Wagner asked.