Immunization law takes effect

Officials say further vaccine compliance is needed on Vashon

Washington state’s new vaccine law, which removed certain exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, is having an effect at the Vashon Island School District, but just how much of an effect will likely be known next month.

Last week, school district nurse Sarah Day said she had seen a big increase in the number of students with previous exemptions who now have received the vaccine. She attributed that change to the new law, which removed the personal and philosophical exemptions, but retained the medical and religious exemptions.

Despite the increase in number of students vaccinated, she said there are still many district students out of compliance, who have received notifications about their status. Day said she will know final number in a month, when she completes her report for the state health department.

“It pleases me,” she said about the students who have been newly vaccinated. “I never thought I would hear about measles outbreaks because measles had been eliminated in United States … and now here we are seeing it in the United States again. Measles may be mild (in some people), but it has a high rate of complications. It can kill and cause many complications and is so highly contagious. And the vaccine is highly effective and long lasting.”

Last January, when the measles outbreak that originated in Clark County began to spread, 92% of Vashon Island School District students had received the MMR vaccine, a rate Day called “fairly decent” but noted that a vaccination rate of 90 to 95% is needed for protective herd immunity.

At Seattle-King County Public Health, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer and chief of communicable diseases, provided a mixed reaction to Vashon’s vaccine developments. He stated that recent increases in vaccination rates among school-age children on Vashon are good both for the health of the children and for the community in general. But he said the island still has a way to go to protect against vaccine-preventable illnesses.

“The percentage of Vashon children who have not received recommended childhood vaccines is still about double the Washington state rate, meaning there remains significant room for improvement in immunization rates in order to optimally protect children and prevent outbreaks among susceptible students and community members,” he said.