New Washington state requirements for the measles vaccine will mean changes for some parents of schoolchildren and for those who work or volunteer at child-care centers.
The new law took effect Sunday.
It requires all adults working in schools and child-care centers to provide proof of vaccination or immunity from measles.
To help those who work or volunteer at child-care centers, the Department of Health is working with Safeway in Tri-Cities to offer free measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.
Although no Walla Walla Safeway or Albertsons pharmacies are yet part of this particular vaccine network, the DOH is working on expanding partnerships to more locations around the state, said Sarah Murray, public health nurse with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health.
The law removes personal and philosophical exemptions to the MMR vaccination requirement in public and private schools and child-care centers. Medical and religious exemptions are still allowed.
After Sunday, parents who had previously used the personal and philosophical exemption will need to vaccinate their children to enroll them in school or child care or get one of the exemptions still allowed.
The new law, and the Department of Health’s new program, goes into effect during the ongoing measles outbreak across Washington. Health Promotions Supervisor Danielle Koenig confirmed Washington is “still in outbreak status with the measles.” She clarified no cases have been confirmed within the past two weeks, but the illness can take up to 21 days before symptoms present, so it’s difficult to anticipate whether more are to come.
There are 13 confirmed cases in the current outbreak, with 96 total cases so far in 2019. Of those affected, most have been between the ages of 1 and 10, with cases among 11- to 18-year-olds coming in second.
The initial outbreak this year was in Clark County, where immunization rates are lower than in the Tri-Cities area, Dr. Amy Person, the health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, told the district’s board earlier this year.
Franklin County is one of the most highly immunized areas of the state, she said.
In Franklin County, 93 to 97 percent of students in kindergarten through high school have all of their required immunizations, according to the Washington state Department of Health.
In Benton County the rate is 87 to 90 percent, and the rate drops to 68 to 78 percent for Clark County. Data is for the 2017-18 school year.
The rate of students with immunization exemptions in Benton County is 2.6 to 3.7 percent, dropping to 1.6 to 2.5 percent in Franklin County.
About 90 percent of people in a community need to be immunized for measles to provide herd, or community, immunity that helps reduce the spread of measles, Person said.
Young children are particularly susceptible to contracting the measles because they can’t be administered an MMR vaccine until they are 12 months old. People with suppressed immune systems and pregnant women are at an increased risk for complications from the measles, according to the CDC.
Measles vaccinations are free for Washington state residents under the age of 19, and are commonly covered by insurance. They are available at many pharmacies and at the Benton Franklin Health District.