SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --This is the time of year when chicken pox makes the rounds in schools, and it is back.
Since 2007, Maine has mandated children in school get vaccinated for the virus that causes chicken pox or be able to prove that their child has had the disease.
Parents can opt their children out if they have a medical, religious or philosophical reason they do not want their kids vaccinated. But if they do, they also must sign a waiver stating they understand if someone at their child's school gets the chicken pox, their kids will have to stay home for 16 days. And if someone else at school gets it in the meantime, the clock starts all over.
In rare cases, kids can be out of school for weeks and weeks. That's what's happened to 2 of the kids of our own sports anchor Lee Goldberg and his wife, Karen. The Goldbergs feel that their kids have had to be out of school for far too long.
While we realize that telling Lee's story presents a potential conflict of interest, we wouldn't have thought twice about covering it had this been another family.
2nd grader Connor Goldberg and his little brother, Liam, are not vaccinated against chicken pox. Karen says Connor had adverse reactions to vaccinations when he was a baby, and so she and his doctor decided it was best he didn't get any more shots. When Liam came along, she didn't want to take the chance that he'd have the same reactions as his brother.
The Goldbergs knew when the first case of chicken pox came along at Dyer Elementary, the boys would have to catch up on schoolwork at home for at least 16 days. But 12 chicken pox cases later, the Goldbergs are slated to be out of school for 7 weeks, and that's assuming no one else gets it. 4 of the chicken pox cases are in kids who have been vaccinated.
Karen, Lee and the boys have had enough. Lee said, "At what point -- if the disease is still going around and it's not the unvaccinated kids -- do you have to say, 'if we're letting the vaccinated kids into school and they're the ones getting it...' It doesn't seem fair."
The Goldbergs want to be able to sign a waiver that says they understand their children could get the chicken pox if they go to school, and they're OK with it.
But Maine Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services teamed up on this rule because they say chicken pox is a public health threat. Unvaccinated kids are kept home not just for their safety, but for the safety of those they might infect.
Nancy Dube, the school nurse consultant for the Department of Education said, "It can be prevented. We need to protect those populations. I understand, a parent understands the risk for their child. They're not signing away the life of another child who might get sick because their child gets chicken pox. They can't do that. They can't sign away someone else's protection."
While the chicken pox vaccine is not 100 percent effective at preventing the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it does avert all serious cases. A two dose course of the vaccine is 90% effective in preventing disease.
The CDC reports that an average of 10,500 people were hospitalized and 100-people died each year from chicken pox before the vaccine came along.
Dube said, "Children can come back immediately if they get vaccinated and that's important for parents. Let's get them vaccinated, protect everybody."
Teachers are not required to be vaccinated to stay in school if there is an outbreak. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services says that is because adults tend to have better hygiene, and children are much more likely to spread the disease. The department recommends that schools inform all their staff of the risks of not being vaccinated and urge them to talk to their doctors.