School districts might be required to send unvaccinated staff home this year if a measles outbreak occurs.

The South Carolina Department of Environmental Health and Control is advising districts to encourage teachers and staff to have proof they are vaccinated against the measles ahead of an outbreak, saying in a letter that unvaccinated staff might be sent home just like unvaccinated students.

When someone at a school contracts measles, unvaccinated students are required to be out of the school for 21 days since the most recent case. DHEC officials are now telling districts that teachers and staff who cannot prove they are vaccinated could also be required to leave the school for 21 days.

“It could be really significant to our workforce,” said Teri Brinkman, executive director for strategic communications with Greenville County Schools.

The mandated 21 days starts over every time a new measles case is discovered in a school, meaning students and staff could potentially be out for a lengthy period of time depending on the severity of the outbreak.

Brinkman said employees don’t have to have proof of vaccinations if they have proof of immunity, such as individuals born prior to 1957 or if they have an antibody test showing they are immune. For employees on state insurance plans, vaccinations are free.

“They are particularly focused on us because of those high nonvaccination numbers,” Brinkman said.

Along with Spartanburg County, Greenville County has one of the highest rates of unvaccinated students in the state — many of whom still attend school because of religious exemptions.

“Unfortunately, the highest rate of cases and outbreaks has been in the DHEC Upstate Public Health Region,” a letter from DHEC to Greenville County Schools said.

Most religions do not explicitly object to vaccinations — it isn’t outlined in any major doctrines.

But an often-repeated concern some parents have with vaccinations is the myth that certain vaccines can cause autism, or that giving several vaccinations in a short span of time can be harmful to young children — neither of which has any basis in fact.

One of the primary concerns health officials have is the worry that unvaccinated individuals put other members of the population at risk — infants who haven’t received all of their doses and individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer or elderly populations.

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