The true student vaccination rate in Washington state isn’t known because of gaps in the records kept by schools, the state Auditor’s Office reported in a recent report on a performance audit.
Public health officials set a goal of 95 percent vaccination coverage, which is the point at which outbreaks are less likely to occur. Yet the state has yet to reach this goal and is still experiencing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Outbreaks of measles spurred state lawmakers this year to remove the personal or philosophical exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination.
The school districts on Whidbey Island are diligent when it comes to monitoring and documenting immunization rates.
The audit reports that the Oak Harbor School District has a near-perfect rate of compliance when it comes to kindergartners. Of the 508 students, 478 are fully vaccinated, 14 are exempt and 13 are “conditional,” a status that allows children to stay in school while parents arrange to get the missing immunizations.
That leaves just three students as out of compliance, which is less than 1 percent.
Lance Gibbon, superintendent of Oak Harbor schools, said the district’s nurse team and support staff work hard to educate families, provide support and follow-up to help them meet state immunization requirements.
“Having some of the best overall immunization and compliance levels,” he said, “means that our students are safer and puts us in an excellent position to respond if there ever were an outbreak.”
In regard to Coupeville schools, the auditors report that six of the 72 kindergartners are out of compliance, which is about 8 percent.
The report states that 14 of 80 kindergartners at South Whidbey Elementary are out of compliance, which is 18 percent.
Superintendent Jo Moccia, however, explained that the data from the report is from the 2017-18 school year and is not necessarily accurate. School nurses, she said, work closely with local pediatricians and have found an ongoing “glitch” in the Department of Health’s system for collecting data, which may have affected the accuracy of the auditor’s report.
Moccia wrote in an email that the district has data on every student and tracks the information carefully.
“Across our entire district of well over 1,200 students we have 50 students that we are working with to get the needed immunizations or face being excluded,” she wrote.
Other districts across the state have out-of-compliance rates as high as 100 percent in elementary schools. Burlington-Edison and the Port Townsend district, for example, have rates of 25 percent.
The auditor’s report states that part of the problem is that some principals chose not to exclude out-of-compliance students from school, despite legal requirements to do so. The report opines that school boards have to hold principals accountable for following the law.
“School districts reported a variety of barriers to vaccination,” the report states.
“These issues included limited access to vaccination resources, parents who choose not to vaccinate their children or vaccinate on a delayed schedule, and language barriers that contribute to poor understanding of immunization requirements.”