While the Washington State Senate passed a bill April 17 that removes the personal belief exemption from vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, that same bill retains medical and religious …
While the Washington State Senate passed a bill April 17 that removes the personal belief exemption from vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, that same bill retains medical and religious exemptions, and leaves intact personal belief exemptions for all other required immunizations.
And with Clark and King counties totaling 72 confirmed cases of measles between them as of April 24, The Leader asked all the school districts in East Jefferson County how they’ve been responding to this issue.
Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm noted his district has been working on helping to improve vaccination rates as part of the Jefferson County Health Improvement Planning (CHIP) group.
“The district informs parents of the requirements, and follows through with notifications to parents in the event of a non-compliant student,” Polm said. “The district is not forcing vaccinations, but is requiring compliance with the law.”
This means that the parent of any Port Townsend School District student must complete the vaccinations required, or else obtain the appropriate certificate of exemption.
“The bottom line is, the district policy is in line with current state law, which still allows parents who do not believe in vaccinations to provide the school with a certificate of exemption signed by their doctor or medical provider,” Polm said.
Polm added the district likewise requires families to provide either a complete vaccination record or a certificate of exemption in order for their child to attend school.
Polm recalled how, this past winter, the Port Townsend School Board held a study session with Dr. Tom Locke, of Jefferson County Public Health, to learn more about the county’s vaccination rates, as well as the health risks posed by out-of-compliance students.
“Our board affirmed that the district will diligently enforce the rules, to assure that all students are in compliance with school entry vaccination requirements, either through completed immunization schedules or legal exemption documentation,” Polm said. “Of course, we would like to see more students receive vaccinations, but we also understand there are situations in which it may not be appropriate to be vaccinated.”
Polm told parents the district may be required to exclude students who are out of compliance, as required per law.
Chimacum School District Superintendent Rick Thompson credited his own district with also working with the CHIP group on vaccination issues.
“We have a really good office manager at Chimacum Creek Primary, Lee Stampfler, who has taken the lead on getting the district more organized with communications,” Thompson said. “The problem now seems to stem from Clark County, but I see the state Legislature is keeping back exemptions between chambers.”
Thompson echoed Polm in assuring the public that his district follows all health department and legal regulations that refer to vaccines.
“We do this by posting requirements on the website, and notifying families that are not in compliance,” Thompson said. “The responses have been good.”
Thompson characterized it as “a joint effort across all of Jefferson County” to increase immunization rates, provide clear information to parents, and to furnish families with resources for vaccinations.
“I am proud of the work our staff have done, particularly Lee and all of our office managers, to give each family real-time information,” Thompson said. “A lot of the work has been to provide families with the basics about vaccinations, the timelines, and about how to get access through different health care providers.”
Quilcene School Principal Sean Moss adopted the same stance as the Port Townsend and Chimacum superintendents, in noting that his own district requires students to be immunized before beginning school, or to have a certificate of exemption from a licensed healthcare provider on file.
“The exemption may be for either a health reason or a philosophical, personal or religious objection to the immunization of the child,” Moss said. “If the exemption is for the latter, we require that the licensed healthcare provider informs the parents or guardians about the benefits of immunization.”
The Quilcene School District additionally marks the permanent files of students who have exemptions for easy identification, should Jefferson County Public Health order that exempted students be excluded from school temporarily, during an outbreak or an epidemic.
“We’ve gotten very little pushback regarding vaccines in my time here,” Moss said. “However, as the son of a nurse and the grandson of a polio survivor, I feel strongly about the importance of vaccinations. Many of the diseases that vaccinations protect children from are extremely serious and, as we’ve seen on a state level this year, have the ability to spread quickly, if an outbreak were to occur.”
Brinnon School District Patricia Beathard’s message to new families enrolling in her district doesn’t differ from those of the other school districts in East Jefferson County, since Brinnon requires them to provide copies of their immunization records, or provide signed certificates of exemption from their health care practitioners.
“We will be updating school policy 3413, governing student immunization and life-threatening health conditions, at the May school board meeting,” Beathard said. “And prior to the end of this school year, we will send home a flyer from the Washington State Department of Health, informing families of required immunizations for the 2019-20 school year.”
Beathard pointed out the Brinnon School District has never received any pushback from families who do not wish to vaccinate their children, and expressed her gratitude to the mobile immunization clinic that’s visited the district for the past two years, courtesy of Jefferson Healthcare.
“That has been very helpful with increasing our immunization rates,” Beathard said.