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Many students possibly out of compliance with new state vaccine law

The measles vaccine. (AP)

Washington families were told to get their shots before the school year started, but many students still have not received their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

“If a student’s vaccinations aren’t up to date, they cannot come into our schools or any school in the State of Washington,” said Tim Robinson with Seattle Public Schools.

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After a round of notifications sent to Seattle parents in August, and a messaging effort since the first day of class, the school district is starting the final push. In mid October, parents will get one final notification. They will have 30 days after that notice to get the job done – get vaccinated, begin the process of being vaccinated, or prove they have a medical or religious exemption.

Washington vaccine law

Over the last legislative session on Olympia, Washington lawmakers removed the option for a personal or philosophical exemptions for vaccines when it comes to schools and child care facilities. Religious or medical exemptions are still allowed. The change came in response to a string of measles outbreaks in the state, totaling 86 cases, the most Washington has seen since 1990.

The new law took effect on July 28, 2019.

“State law directs schools to exclude students who are out of compliance with immunization rules,” said Danielle Koenig with the Washington State Department of Health. “They would be allowed to attend school again once they submit paperwork showing they have completed immunizations or that they have a valid exemption on file.”

“Excluded” means that the students would not be allowed on any campus. They may be allowed to attend alternative learning, such as home school. But they would not be allowed to engage with other students for school purposes, such as sports or orchestra.

Koenig says that state officials won’t know exactly how many students have been vaccinated in Washington until about May 2020. Last year, about 85 percent of Washington’s kindergartners were immunized.

“It’s good that most of our students in our schools are protected, but that number is not as high as we like,” Koenig said. “This year’s measles outbreaks are a reminder of the fact that too many of our children are not protected from many serious diseases. In order to protect as many children as possible, the state has a goal of 95 percent completion rate for kindergartners.”

Some students still not vaccinated

KING 5 reported this week that despite the school year already underway, hundreds of Western Washington students may still not be compliant with state vaccination laws. In King and Snohomish Counties, about 87 percent of kindergartners received their MMR vaccinations last year. In Pierce County, it was 88 percent. KING 5 further reported that 1,253 Lake Washington School District students (the second largest district in the state) claimed personal exemption to avoid vaccines last school year.

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In Seattle, it is unknown exactly how many students are compliant. About 7,000 students do not have up-to-date paperwork. The school district identified about 300 students with personal exemptions last summer as the new law went into effect, and notified their families.

“What they then need to do is get vaccinated, show that they are in the process, or change their exemption for either medical or religious,” Robinson said. “…any other students, who their records aren’t up to date, they need to get their records up to date. We sent out approximately 7,000 letters to families asking them to update their records with us in August.”

“We are allowing some time, we are letting the dust settle, we are getting responses to our email we have set up … once we begin going through all that we will be able to identify who needs that final letter that gives them 30 days to update their records.”

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