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Seattle Public Schools introduces new vaccination policy

Students are now required to have their MMR vaccine to attend school

Sam Rainville and Adria Cooper, Staff Reporters

Originally published January 24, 2020

Students in Washington state without the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) will not be allowed to attend school starting Jan. 8 2020.

The bill passed by the Washington Legislature in May 2019 that removes the personal and philosophical option to exempt students from the vaccination, leaving religious and medical exemptions as the only acceptable exemptions for students in Washington who lack the MMR vaccine.

The MMR vaccine offers protection against three diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get the first dose of the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 15 months and the second dose between the ages of four and six years. For those who have missed this window, the two doses can be given three months apart.

Both public and private schools need to abide by the new bill, and students are now required to prove their immunization status.

Students cannot return to school until immunization record compliance is met.This means students need to be either fully vaccinated, have an appointment to do so, immune to the disease with lab work to prove it or have a signed Certificate of Exemption due to medical or religious reasons.

If students are absent due to being unvaccinated, Seattle Public Schools will count this as an unexcused absence. However, Seattle Public Schools put effort into preventing this by offering four free immunization clinics. The Health Clinics in school are also able to help with vaccinations.

School nurse Annette Cologna and the Teen Health Center staff are able to assist students. “The Teen Health Center at Ballard High School can administer most vaccinations, except Varicella, free of charge with parent consent and permission to vaccinate forms,” Cologna said.

Although this new vaccination requirement seems to have come about quickly, it has actually been in the works for years. “I have been diligently working on this for the past four years by looking into old records and multiple attempts via emails, letters, and phone calls to contact parents,” Cologna said

The new bill came into effect following a record number of measles cases in 2019. According to the Washington State Department of Health, there were 87 reported measles cases in Washington in 2019, the most cases in the state since 1990.

The MMR vaccine is especially important in school environments, because the dense population is more at risk to the highly contagious viruses the vaccine protects against. 

According to the CDC, measles can remain airborne for up to two hours after an infected person has coughed or sneezed, allowing for a long period of potential infection. 

    Another important aspect of this issue is that places like schools rely on herd immunity — sometimes referred to as community immunity — the idea that a population has more resistance to a contagious disease if a high percentage of the population is vaccinated against it.

Herd immunity allows for people who are unable to get vaccinated (immunodeficient people, people allergic to vaccines, etc.) to be protected from preventable diseases, as well as preventing outbreak as it ensures only a few individuals could get the illnesses. It can only be maintained if everyone without these medical exemptions gets vaccinated. More importantly, preventable diseases can be wiped out if a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated against them. 

“I can’t tell you the exact number of students out of compliance but I can tell you that our numbers have reduced from ten percent to two percent since October 2019,” Cologna said of the immunization status for our students.

    However these new requirements weren’t passed without backlash. The bill barely passed with 25-22 votes, and throughout the voting process, parents stood outside the Legislative Building in Olympia protesting the removal of the personal belief exemption.

Pushback has been more subtle at school. “The resistance is more in the form that I have not received documentation [of child’s immunization] or any communication from some parents,” Cologna said.

    Despite the pushback from concerned parents, Seattle Public Schools and Washington as a whole are following through on the new vaccination requirements. 


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Seattle Public Schools introduces new vaccination policy