County questions role in delivering vaccines to school

In the midst of county budget discussions, the role of Island County Public Health in delivering vaccinations in schools is coming into question.

Last year, the board of commissioners decided to use 2018 to gather data on the program to reevaluate it and perhaps cut it altogether. The health department runs an immunization clinic on Mondays at the North Whidbey Family Resource Center in Oak Harbor.

Public Health Director Keith Higman presented the commissioners Wednesday with some of the data collected over the year about who is served and what other options are available. During the presentation, he said Oak Harbor School District had around 200 students out of compliance with immunization requirements, which are set by the state.

The remaining 97 percent of the student population is compliant.

The health department held a clinic at its Oak Harbor center Tuesday to address some of the district’s need.

Commissioner Jill Johnson asked Wednesday if Island County should continue its role in helping vaccinate students and whether the district should take more responsibility.

“There’s enough money going into that system for them to be able to figure out how to immunize their kids,” she said.

Johnson said later in an interview that, during budget discussions, she is assessing the county’s role in all programs and whether or not those services are best provided by other agencies that might have more capacity.

District officials said Oak Harbor schools don’t provide a clinic for immunizations like the ones hosted by volunteer organizations for sport physicals or flu shots, but it would be open to it.

“If an organization were to offer vaccinations by volunteer physicians or nurses we would welcome it, but no one has spoken to us about this,” a district spokesman said in an email.

Oak Harbor by far has the best vaccination compliance in the county.

Although 2018 data was not provided, South Whidbey schools had over 12 percent non-compliance in 2017, according to county health officials. And Coupeville had a little over 8 percent. These students either were not up to date or didn’t submit the required documents — either vaccine records or an exemption form.

There is no clinic provided by the county on South Whidbey. Health officials surveyed parents of public school children, and according to the report, South Whidbey parents “seemed to be resolved to driving off-island to find pediatric care.”

They also reported the WhidbeyHealth clinic isn’t always adequately stocked with the needed immunizations.

However, survey results indicated Oak Harbor parents voiced the most frustration with access to pediatric or primary care.

Higman said in an interview that public health systems are starting to move away from direct delivery of care, such as providing immunization clinics. However, in rural areas where access to other providers can be more challenging, it is still more common.

“It’s a changing landscape,” he said.

More information about the Island County immunization program will be presented at the county Board of Health meeting at 1 p.m., Oct. 16. No decision has been made yet as to the future of the program.

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