Most school-age children in South Sound are headed indoors to classrooms soon. A piece of any family’s preparation for a new school year requires more than notebooks; it should include vaccinations for young kids.
State health authorities earlier this summer recommended that students’ vaccinations be up to date for whooping cough, which has hit epidemic levels with 1,080 cases through mid-August, according to the state Department of Health. Whooping cough can be an irritant for adults and teens but fatal for babies, said Paul Throne, a DOH spokesman.
Just as important is the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. The state Department of Health recommends a first MMR shot for babies between 12 and 15 months and a second one for youngsters between 4 and 6 years.
The death of a Clallam County woman due to measles earlier this year marked the first U.S. measles fatality since 2003. It underscored that an illness once seen as almost eradicated in the U.S. can actually be very serious.
Unfortunately, opt-out rates for vaccinations run higher in Washington and put some of the public at risk.
Statewide exemption rates were about 4.6 percent in data released earlier this year by DOH. That’s more than twice the national rate, and the share of students whose immunization record is uncertain or incomplete is also high, according to DOH. In some districts or schools — such as Olympia’s Lincoln Elementary — exemption rates are nearly 30 percent.
In rough terms, having more than 5 percent of a population not immunized raises the risk of an outbreak spreading.
Some states are stricter than ours, allowing opt-outs only for those whose religious beliefs are in conflict with vaccine use. Having fewer unvaccinated children in schools is better for those few who cannot — due to certain religious beliefs, diseases or conditions — be vaccinated.
A bill introduced this year in the House to tighten Washington’s law never got a floor vote. We hope the Legislature revisits this issue in January.
Pot use and traffic deaths
Our state’s experiment with legal marijuana use is in its early days, but new traffic fatality data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission is disconcerting. It shows 89 drivers in 429 fatal crashes last year tested positive for use of marijuana. Five out of six of those who showed marijuana use had active THC chemicals in the bloodstream that indicated recent usage.
That’s a higher incidence of active marijuana chemicals showing up in such drivers’ blood than in 2010, two years before our state’s voters passed an initiative to legalize possession and allow a recreational pot market with state-regulated and state-taxed sales.
Exactly how much marijuana use contributed to fatal crashes in 2014 is in doubt. Alcohol is believed to affect motorists more than pot does, and the traffic agency’s staff is still unwilling to blame the increase on legalization.
A recent news story noted a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study that — after adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use — found marijuana users had no greater likelihood of crashing than did sober drivers. Two other studies cited by the commission show that active THC in one’s bloodstream doubles one’s risk of getting into a vehicle accident.
Until better research ends the argument, a strong reminder is in order for motorists not to drive if they’ve been ingesting marijuana.