Since the 2016-2017 school year, the rate of completely vaccinated students in White Salmon Valley School District’s kindergartens has dropped from 70.3 % to 52.9 % during the 2018-2019 school year. That’s a nearly 25 % drop in vaccinations within the school district’s youngest population of students.
One-third of kindergartners at Whitson Elementary School were listed as incomplete for their MMR vaccination, meaning either they had not received the immunization or that they had not turned in the forms to confirm that they were vaccinated during the 2018-2019 school year.
The overall K-12 data was more positive, which listed 79.5 % of students as complete. However, 9 % of students were listed as exempt, with nearly two-thirds of the exempt population having listed their exemption reasoning as “personal.”
Compared to the state immunization rates of kindergartners released by the Department of Health, the White Salmon Valley School District is below the state average of 86.3 % of kindergartners who were listed as complete on all their vaccinations.
That’s according to newly released data on immunization rates from the Washington state Department of Health website.
According to the Department of Health, the rate of out-of-compliance students in White Salmon Valley rose to 39.2 % during the 2018-2019 school year from 23.8 % in 2016. Students who are out-of-compliance with the new law have 30 days from the first day of attendance to provide the proper documentation, according to the Department of Health.
The rates of conditional kindergarten students wavered from 4.0 % in 2016, down to 1 % in 2017 and back up to 4.9 % in 2018. Students with a conditional status are those that are in the 30-day period in which they are required to provide documentation that they have completed or that they are exempt from vaccinations.
Superintendent Jerry Lewis said the district is in the process of gathering data on vaccination rates for this year.
“We had pretty low numbers last year,” Lewis said. He said the district is also working on language to tighten up the exemptions allowed for families who choose not to vaccinate their children.
The new policy is set to be announced during the school board meeting this month. It would follow new legislation approved by the state in April that removed the personal and philosophical exemptions from the MMR immunization. The MMR vaccine prevents outbreaks from measles, mumps and rubella.
Within the new statewide policy, which went into effect late July, is a statute that forces daycare workers and volunteers to provide documentation of their MMR immunization. However, it does not require K-12 staff to receive the vaccine. It does not change the personal and philosophical exemptions for other vaccines, nor does it affect the religious and medical exemptions from the MMR vaccine.
Since there is no grandfather clause within the new law, students who were previously exempt from the MMR vaccine for personal or philosophical reasons are no longer exempt and are required to receive that specific immunization.
The law follows an outbreak of the Measles virus in Clark County earlier this year. A large majority of children who contracted the measles within Clark County were children between the ages of 1 through 10, according to Clark County Public Health. An even greater majority of the people who contracted the virus were unvaccinated.
Todd McCauley, principal of Whitson Elementary School, says rates are expected to decrease among the population of elementary students in the district due to an increased awareness of the issue.
He said the school is working on increasing communication between the staff and parents about immunizations, citing emails sent to parents and information that was put into the introduction packets for parents at the beginning of the school year.
“It’s part of a context of a larger society,” McCauley said during an interview Monday morning. He cited high-profile outbreaks in Clark County and at Disneyland which gathered an outpour of media attention.
About the new state law that took effect starting this school year, he said that “it’s a good next step.”
For more information regarding immunization rates in Washington public and private schools, visit https://www.doh.wa.gov/DataandStatisticalReports/HealthDataVisualization/SchoolImmunization