It’s coming down to the wire for students to receive measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations before being barred from school.
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee signed EHB 1638, a bill updating Washington state’s school and child care immunization requirements to remove the personal and philosophical exemption option for the MMR vaccine.
Washington state still allows exemptions from the MMR vaccine for medical or religious reasons when obtained and signed by a provider and then reported to the students’ schools. Students who have one of these exemptions on file are not affected by the new law.
Measles in Washington
The measles virus is contagious, and can be serious, especially for young children.
Symptoms include fever, rash, cough, and red, watery eyes. A person can contract measles from an infected person as early as four days before they have a rash and for up to four days after the rash appears, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
Since January there have been 12 measles outbreaks in King County and 86 outbreaks statewide.
In May, a staff member at Issaquah High School (IHS) was diagnosed with measles. The staff member was one of five new cases of measles that was recently identified by the DOH.
In the Northshore School District (NSD), a high school student at North Creek High School was another of the group diagnosed with the measles.
Both school districts urged families to monitor their students for signs of measles. Students who may have had measles were asked to stay away from school and see their primary care provider immediately.
The bill took effect July 28. It applies to public and private schools as well as child care centers. The law removes the option for a personal and philosophical exemption to the MMR vaccine requirement for schools and child care. It also requires employees and volunteers at child care centers to provide immunization records indicating they have received the MMR vaccine or proof of immunity.
“Measles outbreaks across the U.S. demonstrate why this bill is so vitally important. As a nation, we must step up our leadership to educate the public about the critical role vaccines have in keeping us healthy and safe and continue working with communities to improve vaccination rates,” Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a release. “We’re grateful for the Legislature and Gov. Inslee’s dedication to protecting public health and for the leadership of Rep. [Paul] Harris and Sen. [Annette] Cleveland.”
Students not claiming medical or religious exemptions were urged to receive their MMR vaccination before the first day of school.
According to several school district releases, including Mercer Island, Issaquah, Northshore, Lake Washington, Bellevue and Snoqualmie Valley, two doses of MMR were required for all students in grades K-12 before school starts.
“If a student has had a personal or philosophical exemption in the past, we must now have documentation of MMR immunization from a health care provider on or before the first day of school on Sept. 4, 2019, as a condition of enrollment. The new law does not affect religious or medical exemptions,” according to the district releases. “Two doses of MMR are required for all students in grades K-12. The two doses must be given at least 28 days apart. When your child has a first MMR vaccination, please let your school nurse know the date it occurred as well as the date the second dose is administered.”
However, many students failed to meet that requirement by the first day of school. Several Eastside school districts are working with families to get their students vaccinated, or claim medical or religious exemption, so they don’t have to be kept away from school.
The final deadline for students to receive their MMR vaccinations, or to claim an exemption, varies per school district.
In the Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD), the exclusion date has not been set yet.
“The exclusion date is set each year by the superintendent and has not yet been set for this year, but typically falls in December,” SVSD public information officer, Carolyn Malcom, said. “This date is one month following the legally-mandated exclusion warning letter that districts must send 30 days prior to exclusion. We typically send this letter in November after trying other efforts to collect data/get students immunized, and have reported to the state.”
In the Issaquah School District (ISD), the deadline to provide documentation of MMR compliance was Oct. 4. ISD executive director of communications, L. Michelle, said as of Oct. 1, there were 69 students who had not met the requirement.
“Nurses have been emailing letters to families of all students who are non-compliant with immunizations — not just the MMR — letting them know that they have 30 days from the first day of school to get the students immunized, or their children will be excluded from school per state law,” Michelle said. “Therefore, families who have not provided the district with documentation for their children will have to keep their students home from school until they have provided documentation beginning Oct. 4.”
In the Bellevue School District (BSD), students have until Dec. 1 to provide documentation of MMR compliance.
“This year school districts have until Dec. 1 to report to the Washington State Department of Health on the status of student immunization compliance,” BSD director of communications Michael May said. “We are actively working with schools and updating immunization data at this time. Nursing staff are also actively working with students and families toward compliance…We recognize there is this new requirement, and we are working with families to ensure that no students are excluded.”
In the Lake Washington School District (LWSD), students have until Oct. 17 to provide documentation of MMR compliance.
“Lake Washington School District families have until Oct. 17 to complete their vaccination paperwork before we would begin excluding students from our schools,” LWSD director of communications Shannon Parthemer said. “…Our school nurses are working with families every day to complete this work.”
The Northshore School District (NSD) did not respond for comment by the Reporter deadline.