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Monday, November 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Free immunization clinic helps Spokane County kids get shots required to attend school

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 15, 2019

Isaiah Johnson, a student at Woodridge Elementary School, gets both a DTaP and a flu shot from WSU School of Nursing students Ali Ronnefeldt, left, and Josiah Bryan, right, during a Spokane Regional Health District free immunization clinic, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, at Farwell Elementary. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Isaiah Johnson, a student at Woodridge Elementary School, gets both a DTaP and a flu shot from WSU School of Nursing students Ali Ronnefeldt, left, and Josiah Bryan, right, during a Spokane Regional Health District free immunization clinic, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, at Farwell Elementary. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The shots didn’t hurt much, especially for mom.

After two days of hauling her son to work because he didn’t have his shots, Angel Jackson was more than ready for the free immunization clinic Tuesday afternoon at Farwell Elementary School.

Like hundreds of other students throughout the county, Isaiah was sent home from school on Monday for not having the immunizations required by state law.

Tuesday’s clinic, put on by the Spokane Regional Health Clinic, was convenient, cost nothing, and couldn’t have come sooner for Jackson and other parents, especially after snow canceled last week’s scheduled clinic.

The event served almost 200 people.

By late last week, Isaiah was one of more than 900 students in Spokane Public Schools who lacked the necessary immunizations. The deadline was Monday, when 323 were turned away.

However, only 23 of those were affected by a new state law that allows exemptions from the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR, only for medical or religious reasons.

Washington state lawmakers cut the philosophical or personal exemption for the MMR vaccine earlier this year after measles outbreaks around the state.

Without one of the three remaining exemptions, the MMR vaccination is required for children to enter preschool, child care or school in the state. Child care providers also have to get the MMR vaccine if they do not currently have it.

The crackdown on MMR exemptions followed a winter that saw 85 cases of measles statewide, the highest number since 1990, according to the Washington State Department of Health. However, none of those occurred east of the Cascades.

The law took effect in July, but most school districts gave families a grace period. That expired last weekend.

Families can still invoke personal or philosophical exemptions to other vaccines, including those for polio, tetanus and pertussis.

The bigger problem is the overall lack of immunization.

As of last week, Spokane Public Schools said 2,890 students didn’t have up-to-date immunization records, 617 of whom have MMR exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

During the 2017-18 school year, about 8% of the 75,305 enrolled students in all Spokane County school districts had some type of vaccine exemption, according to the state Department of Health.

That means more than 6,000 students in Spokane County schools had one of the four types of exemptions to any one vaccine. Of those students with exemptions in Spokane County, 3,311 of them had an exemption to the MMR vaccine.

A recent report by the Washington State Department of Health showed more than 4,400 students across Spokane County were unvaccinated.

With so many students lacking immunizations, school districts had given it their best shot to spread the word about the clinic.

Since last summer, they’ve gone online, through the mailbox and even door-to-door to spread the word to families: unless you have a medical or religious objection to required vaccinations, your child will not be allowed in school.

“Principals have even made visits to individual houses to visit families, but there are always some who are going to fall through the cracks,” said Brian Coddington, director of communications and public relations for the district.

After Monday’s deadline, parents got the message. Only 196 students were turned away on Tuesday, Coddington said.

With help from Rotary volunteers, Tuesday’s clinic for those who still needed shots was as pain-free as possible. While they waited, kids were entertained by board games and a guitarist.

When it was over, the newly-vaccinated celebrated by ringing a bell and picking out free winter caps and jackets.

After getting his required diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot, Isaiah will head back to Woodridge Elementary.

For good measure, he received a flu shot in the other arm.

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