The number of mumps cases in Washington state has soared, just as the state Department of Health reports that the percentage of children who go without immunizations is more than double the national average.
Across the state, about 5 percent of kindergartners go without immunizations, a figure that threatens the 95 percent “herd immunity” for measles, or the level of immunization required to prevent disease transmission. The herd immunity percentage is lower for mumps — 75 percent.
For the vast majority of us, immunizations are a rite of childhood and child-rearing. As to those kindergartners who are not vaccinated, health officials cite a range of reasons: legitimate medical issues, parental philosophical or religious objections and lack of access to medical care.
Despite overwhelming evidence about vaccinations’ effectiveness, many opponents still cling to misinformation — for example, the debunked assertion that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. Many holdouts cite an individual right to make the decision, and they are not easily pigeonholed; past studies have found high rates of immunization opt-out in politically conservative Ferry County, and in affluent and politically liberal San Juan County.
The state has a process for parents who seek an exemption, though it tightened the process in 2011, when it required parents seeking a personal-belief exemption to get a signature from a health care provider.
In the meantime, health officials can keep emphasizing how vaccinations are where science and common sense align — to the benefit of the health of the community and that of the entire state.