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Doctor’s note needed for immunization exemptions

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, helped  sponsor a bill last month that will add an extra hoop for parents to jump through before being able to have their children exempt from required school immunizations.

Effective July 22, parents who desire exemption from state law have to submit proof that a health care provider informed them of the risks and benefits associated with immunization.

In a release, Bailey reported that nearly one-third of Washington’s counties had surpassed 10 percent exemption rates and that more exemptions result in more disease outbreaks.

It may not be surprising that Bailey is looking to bring those numbers down when the exemption rates in her own county are among the highest in the state.

According to surveys submitted to the Department of Health, the Oak Harbor School District had an exemption rate of just about 10 percent this year, South Whidbey came in at nearly 19 percent and Coupeville School District topped the list at over 20 percent.

Washington is one of 20 states that allows parents to opt out due to philosophical or personal reasons, and out of the 1,110 Whidbey Island students who were exempt this year, 1,046 of them had personal reasons checked on their form. Forty-four students listed a medical reason, while the remaining 20 said the vaccinations were against their religious beliefs.

“Nothing in this bill prevents parents from exercising their parental rights,” Bailey wrote. “It is clear that parents will continue to make the final decisions about their children when it comes to immunization. I understand and respect those who have objections to immunization. However, there is a growing belief that many exemptions are based on convenience. We want to make sure parents are informed.”

Furthermore, a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week found that Washington’s kindergartners do not meet any state or national targets for any required vaccinations when they enter school, with 6.2 percent of students having exemptions from at least one or more vaccines.

Whidbey schools again beat the average kindergarten exemption rates with Oak Harbor having 9.2 percent of children exempt, Coupeville 13.8 percent and South Whidbey 11.7 percent.

“Most of today’s parents weren’t around to see how bad diseases like measles and whooping cough were before vaccines helped bring them under control,” Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in the report. “We’ve done a good job fending off those diseases with vaccines, but we can’t be complacent; we’re seeing them start to make a comeback and too many of our kids are vulnerable.”

According to Island County Health Officer Dr. Roger Case, Whidbey hasn’t seen a large outbreak of disease since 1988 when 88 cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, were confirmed on the island. However, cases of whooping cough have popped up in recent years with at least three cases confirmed in the Oak Harbor School District this winter.

Case also pointed out that between 2006 and 2008, 21 cases of Hepatitis B were confirmed on the island and 71 cases of Hepatitis C.

For a list of required vaccines and information on the new bill requirements, visit the Department of Health’s website. Students under 19 can get all school and child care recommended vaccines for free through the state’s Childhood Vaccine Program. Providers may still charge an administrative or office visit fee, but it can be waived for those people who cannot afford it.

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