Protect your kids: Immunize them before school starts

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photoMarni Storey, Deputy Director, Clark County Public Health

Free immunizations

Free or low-cost immunizations for children and teens are offered at these clinics:

Free Clinic of Southwest Washington (uninsured only) - (360) 313-1390

4100 Plomondon St., Vancouver

Wednesdays, Aug. 3, 10, 17 (sign-up begins at 5 p.m.)

Sea Mar Community Health Center - (360) 313-1390

Center for Community Health, Bldg. 17, 3rd Floor

1601 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver

(Call to make an appointment)

Although it may seem that summer is just getting started, the new school year is actually just weeks away. This means it’s time for parents to schedule their children for back-to-school immunizations. Immunizations save lives and protect against catching and spreading serious and preventable illnesses, some of which have no cure or treatment.

What immunizations are required for children entering public school and child care?

Parents can find out which immunizations are required for school and child care attendance online at the Washington State Department of Health.

Are immunizations free?

Immunizations for children under 19 are free through Washington’s Childhood Vaccine Program. Your health care provider may charge an office visit or administration fee, but it might be waived if you’re unable to pay.

Call your health care provider now for an appointment and bring your child’s immunization record. If you can’t find the immunization record, Clark County Public Health suggests parents and guardians see if their health care provider can access the CHILD Profile Immunization Registry. Many providers use the registry to track vaccinations given to children born in Washington.

Free or low-cost immunizations for children and teens are also offered at the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington and Sea Mar Community Health Center (see the sidebar for more information.)

Can I refuse vaccinations for my child?

Although exemptions are allowed for medical, religious, or personal reasons, unvaccinated children may be excluded from school or child care during disease outbreaks. We’ve seen a troubling uptick in cases of some preventable diseases in Clark County this year, notably whooping cough and even a measles case. (We shouldn’t be seeing any measles in Clark County!) This might be related to the fact that Washington has one of the highest school exemption rates in the nation.

Does the new state law make vaccine exemptions harder to get?

Until now, it’s been relatively easy for parents to get their children exempted from vaccine requirements. However, a new law that recently went into effect on July 22 in Washington state helps ensure that exemptions are based on conviction, not convenience. We hope this law will help to boost immunization rates. The law requires parents or guardians to get a signature from a health care provider licensed in Washington if they want to exempt their child from school and child care immunization requirements.

Health care providers who can sign the exemption form or write a letter include physicians (M.D.), physician assistants (P.A.), osteopaths (D.O.), naturopaths (N.D.), and advanced registered nurse practitioners (A.R.N.P.) who are currently licensed in Washington. Signatures by registered nurses (R.N.), medical assistants (M.A) or licensed practical nurses (L.P.N.) are not acceptable.

A health care provider doesn't need to sign the form for parents or guardians who demonstrate membership in a church or religious group that does not allow a health care provider to provide medical treatment to a child. Other religious exemptions require a signed form.

I live in Clark County but my doctor is in Oregon. Can she sign the exemption form?

If your Oregon doctor also has a Washington license, she may sign the form. Otherwise, you will need to contact a healthcare provider in Washington. Your Oregon doctor may be able to recommend a Washington provider. You can also contact the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington or Sea Mar (contact information above). For additional questions on the new law, please see the Washington Department of Health's exemption information.

Marni Storey is the Deputy Director of Clark County Public Health, where she provides oversight for environmental public health, chronic disease prevention, communicable disease, and maternal and child health programs. She has worked as a public health nurse providing parent-child home visits, immunization services, reproductive health services, and community health assessments in Arizona, Montana, and Washington. She has lead projects such as the Child Health Initiative, Nurse-Family Partnership, and the development of a primary care/behavioral health clinic via contract. Marni provides a consistent voice between the agency, community stakeholders, and the local Board of Health. She holds her master of science in community health nursing. She can be reached at (360) 397-8434 or marni.storey@clark.wa.gov