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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Vaccinate your schoolchildren

All schoolchildren in Washington will need two doses of the chickenpox vaccine by the start of classes next fall, and school districts are getting the word out.

For the health of your children and the protection of their classmates, please comply.

This vaccination requirement used to cover students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. But new state requirements are being phased in. Seventh- and eighth-graders were covered at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. Students in grades nine through 12 will be required to be inoculated by beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

The new requirements are based on the recommendations from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Students who have already had their double dosage do not need to repeat it, but proof is required.

Teenagers have a higher risk of severe complications from chickenpox, according to the state Department of Health. The disease can lead to scarring, immune system breakdowns and bacterial infections.

In the Spokane Public Schools district, 1,893 students lack the necessary vaccination paperwork. Unfortunately, Spokane County parents seek exemptions at a higher rate than the statewide average. For the chickenpox vaccination in 2014-15, the county’s exemption rate was 4.6 percent; the statewide average was 2.9 percent.

After sending out general information on the vaccination requirement, SPS officials plan to contact the parents of unvaccinated children, which is a more direct approach than in the past. That should help increase compliance, which will lower the risk of outbreaks.

The chickenpox vaccine has not been as controversial as the one for measles, which has been dogged by a false link to autism, so the inoculation rate is higher. Nonetheless, the state still offers exemptions for personal, religion and medical reasons.

We’ve urged the state Legislature to eliminate the personal exemption, as many other states have, to boost the vaccination rate. Oftentimes, that personal excuse is merely an objection to the “hassle” of complying. But the importance of preventing and containing communicable diseases is too important to allow people to shrug it off.

The religious exemption is rarely invoked, and the medical exemption requires a signature from a health care provider, which at least means parents are exposed to an expert opinion. That’s important, because the Internet is brimming with crackpot theories about vaccinations.

Parents who do seek an exemption should be aware of the consequences, which are outlined on the required form. If a school has an outbreak of a communicable disease, unvaccinated children cannot attend. They could miss many days and fall behind in their studies. Child care would be difficult to find.

For working parents, that would be a far greater hassle than complying.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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