Washington state

Here’s what to know as new measles vaccine law takes effect in Washington state

New Washington state requirements for the measles vaccine will mean changes for some Tri-City area parents of schoolchildren and for those who work or volunteer at child-care centers.

The new law takes effect Sunday.

It requires all adults working in child-care centers to provide proof of vaccination or immunity from measles. The requirement does not extend to kindergarten through high school workers.

To help those who work or volunteer at child-care centers, the Department of Health is working with Safeway to offer free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.

The Safeway at Kennewick Avenue and Highway 395 in Kennewick will offer the vaccine through June 2020 to uninsured and under-insured child-care workers and volunteers. Safeway and Albertsons pharmacies participating elsewhere in the state are listed on the Department of Health’s website.

M-M-R vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. Andrew Jansen Herald file

The law also removes personal and philosophical exemptions to the MMR vaccination requirement in public and private schools and child-care centers. Medical and religious exemptions are still allowed.

Measles outbreak continues

After Sunday, parents who had previously used the personal and philosophical exemption will need to vaccinate their children to enroll them in school or child care or get one of the exemptions still allowed.

The new law, and the Department of Health’s new program, goes into effect during the ongoing measles outbreak across Washington. Health Promotions Supervisor Danielle Koenig confirmed Washington is “still in outbreak status with the measles.” She clarified no cases have been confirmed within the past two weeks, but the illness can take up to 21 days before symptoms present, so it’s difficult to anticipate whether more are to come.

There are 13 confirmed cases in the current outbreak, with 96 total cases so far in 2019. Of those affected, most have been between the ages of 1 and 10, with cases among 11- to 18-year-olds coming in second.

The initial outbreak this year was in Clark County, where immunization rates are lower than in the Tri-Cities area, Dr. Amy Person, the health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, told the district’s board earlier this year.

Capture IMMUNIZations.PNG
Courtesy Washington state Department of Health

Franklin County is one of the most highly immunized areas of the state, she said.

In Franklin County, 93 to 97 percent of students in kindergarten through high school have all of their required immunizations, according to the Washington state Department of Health.

Exemption rates in Benton, Franklin counties

In Benton County the rate is 87 to 90 percent, and the rate drops to 68 to 78 percent for Clark County. Data is for the 2017-18 school year.

The rate of students with immunization exemptions in Benton County is 2.6 to 3.7 percent, dropping to 1.6 to 2.5 percent in Franklin County.

About 90 percent of people in a community need to be immunized for measles to provide herd, or community, immunity that helps reduce the spread of measles, Person said.

Young children are particularly susceptible to contracting the measles because they can’t be administered an MMR vaccine until they are 12 months old. People with suppressed immune systems and pregnant women are at an increased risk for complications from the measles, according to the CDC.

Measles vaccinations are free for Washington state residents under the age of 19, and are commonly covered by insurance. They are available at many pharmacies and at the Benton Franklin Health District.

The Benton Franklin Health District has more information on its website about how to find immunization records and how to obtain proof of measles immunity.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.