Health & Fitness

Free clinics aim to increase vaccination rates for Thurston County students

Some of the youngest people living in Thurston County aren’t immunized at the rates recommended to maintain “herd immunity,” a safeguard against the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, data from recent years shows.

Upcoming clinics where students can get immunized for free are one way county officials aim to change that.

“Increasing immunization rates is an important goal for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services,” Dr. Rachel Wood, Thurston County Health Officer, said in an email to The Olympian. “Not only do vaccines prevent disease, they also provide protection to others in the community who may have compromised immune systems.”

If enough people in a population are vaccinated, according to an article by Dr. Manish Sadarangani written for Oxford Vaccine Group in 2016, an outbreak is less likely; the germ causing an infection can’t be transmitted by someone who’s had the vaccine.

If herd immunity is achieved, even people who can’t be vaccinated — due to a weakened immune system, for example — are more protected, according to Sadarangani.

There had been 85 cases of measles reported in Washington in 2019 as of July 16, according to DOH. None of the cases were reported in Thurston County, but all came from counties in the western half of the state.

For a very contagious disease like measles, herd immunity requires 90 to 95 percent of the community be vaccinated, according to Sadarangani, while less-contagious diseases, such as polio, require 80 to 85 percent.

Data from recent years puts Thurston County kids below herd-immunity levels for measles: In 2018, Washington DOH data for Thurston County showed 76 percent of children aged 19 months to 35 months and 64 percent of kids aged 4 to 6 years had received their measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

For the 2017-18 school year, DOH data shows between 83 and 86 percent of Thurston County kindergartners had completed their required immunizations. Between 5 and 10 percent had school-immunization exemptions.

k immunizations.png
Courtesy photo Washington DOH

A new state law effective July 28 got rid of the personal and philosophical option for exempting children from the MMR vaccine that’s required to attend public and private schools and licensed child care centers. Schelli Slaughter, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, said at a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting that she hopes to see change in light of that law.

“We’re hoping that more people will get their children the measles vaccine,” Slaughter said. “And as part of our efforts to help parents, especially those who may have difficulty accessing health care insurance or their regular providers, we’re offering the free clinics.”

The Thurston County Medical Reserve Corps will host three back-to-school immunization clinics between Aug. 15 and Sep. 21, where students as young as incoming preschoolers and up to age 18 can get their required immunizations at no cost. The shots will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

The first event will be in conjunction with the Little Red Schoolhouse Distribution Day at Komachin Middle School in Lacey on Thursday, Aug. 15. There, families also can get a backpack, school supplies, and clothing. The immunization event is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Little Red Schoolhouse event is scheduled to last until 6 p.m.

The second immunization clinic will be at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School in Tumwater from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 22.

The third is at Kaiser Permanente Olympia Medical Center, 700 Lilly Road NE, from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 21. The event flier notes that Kaiser membership is not a requirement for participation.

Thurston County Health Officer Wood pointed out to the Board of County Commissioners at a recent meeting that the timing of the clinics is important.

“For measles, mumps, and rubella, you need to have two immunizations at least 28 days apart,” she said. So, a student could come to one of the first clinics and get their second immunization at the third event.

A summary of vaccine requirements for kids to attend child care and school is available on the Washington DOH website.

Related stories from The Olympian

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.