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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Personal vaccine waiver poor excuse to risk disease

The first Spokane case of measles in 21 years has put the spotlight back on immunization. Do you know your status, or that of your children? Did you know that non-immunized students can be barred from school for up to 21 days if there is a reported case at their campus?

To be clear, no outbreaks have been reported at Spokane schools. The lone confirmed case is an adult who worked at the Qdoba restaurant on South Grand Avenue. It’s unknown at this point whether the disease has spread. But you should plan for the possibility or be prepared for the consequences of opting out of immunization against this highly contagious disease.

If your child is a student at Spokane Public Schools, there is no excuse for being uninformed. On April 13, the district began barring students from attending until they provided proof of immunization or an opt-out waiver. The district began informing parents in mid-February with voicemails, certified letters and information sent home with students.

The district was the first in the state to take such a bold approach, and it has paid off. On April 12, the district estimated that 922 students were out of compliance. As of Wednesday morning, the figure had dwindled to 89. School officials and parents have rallied admirably since February, when the district reported having incomplete records for more than 5,000 students.

The district is not pushing vaccinations, but it is insisting on up-to-date information. As a part of that process, more students are getting immunized. This suggests that the perceived hassle of getting shots or filling out paperwork is a factor.

In conjunction with the district’s push, the Spokane Regional Health District set up vaccination clinics at various schools. To date, these mobile clinics have administered free shots to 242 people under the age of 19, and a dozen to adults. The next clinic is set for Deer Park on May 7. Shots are also available from your health care provider and community clinics. Pharmacies are also participating. Visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder online and enter your ZIP code to find nearby locations.

The Spokane Regional Health District plans to list low-cost or no-cost options at its website soon. The location of community clinics can be found there, too.

At present, Spokane Public Schools has received 2,774 immunization waivers out of a student population of 29,589. Overall, the state has a relatively high opt-out rate because it’s so easy. Under state law, families can opt out for medical, religious and personal reasons. A medical waiver requires a physician’s signature. The “personal” waiver, which requires no explanation, is the most prevalent, and should be eliminated. Leniency has opened the door to the comeback of an eradicated disease.

A bill that would have tightened the state’s vaccination law failed to pass. So while public health officials and Spokane schools have increased their efforts, the Legislature opted out. There’s no excuse for that.

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