Health officials aim for 95% of kindergarteners to be vaccinated

County health: Not vaccinating ‘puts all of the kids at risk’

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



On the web

For a list of immunizations required for school entry, visit the state Department of Health website: Immunization/VaccineRequirements

Protect yourself

All vaccines required for school are free for students younger than age 19. Some providers may charge an administrative fee.

Families without a regular health care provider can received free back-to-school vaccinations at these clinics (be sure to bring immunization records):

• Go Ready! Back-to-School Readiness Festival: 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at Hudson's Bay High School, 1601 E. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver. 360-342-8060,

• Lacamas Medical Group: 3 to 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at 3240 N.E. Third Ave., Camas. Walk-in clinic; children 6 years and older only. 360-838-2440.

• Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Salmon Creek medical clinic: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 21 and 28, Sept. 11, 18 and 25 at 14508 N.E. 20th Ave., Vancouver. Walk-in clinic. 360-852-9070.

• Camas4Kids Fair: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 16 at Doc Harris Stadium, 1125 N.E. 22nd Ave., Camas. 360-838-2440.

• Free Clinic of Southwest Washington: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. every first and third Wednesday, 4100 Plomondon St., Vancouver. Walk-in clinic; uninsured children only. 360-313-1390.

• Patient Direct Care: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 209 E. Main St., Suite 121, Battle Ground. Call to ensure availability, 360-999-5138.

As summer comes to an end, health officials are urging parents to make sure their children’s immunizations are up-to-date before the new school year begins.

State health officials hope to see 95 percent of kindergartners completely immunized this school year. But Clark County schools have some work to do to meet that goal. During the 2016-17 school year, only one local public school met that goal: George C. Marshall Elementary School in Vancouver. Countywide, only 78 percent of kindergartners were fully immunized last year, according to state health department data.

When the vaccination rate gets that low, kids are at risk, said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health and county health officer.

“You have a kindling,” he said. “You have a situation where you can have an outbreak.”

Those students who aren’t vaccinated are not only missing protection from diseases, but they’re also at risk of being excluded from school should an outbreak occur, Melnick said. Last school year, two Vancouver elementary schools — Walnut Grove and Sifton — excluded students following chickenpox outbreaks.

“In order to prevent transmission of those diseases, to prevent an outbreak, you need a large enough portion of the students and staff to be immune to it,” either through vaccination or past infection, Melnick said.

Having a sufficient portion of a population protected against an infectious disease to make the spread unlikely is called herd immunity. Each disease has a different herd immunity threshold. For measles, that threshold is about 95 percent. Pertussis, or whooping cough, also requires immunization rates higher than 90 percent.

Herd immunity is important, Melnick said, because it protects those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or who are too young to be fully vaccinated. Inevitably, group settings such as schools will have students or staff members who cannot be immunized.

“These are really, really serious illnesses, and all of us need to be immunized to protect those around us,” Melnick said.

Following the vaccine schedule is also important, said Brianna Dannen, public health nurse.

“It is set up to maximize that effectiveness and get the best immunity for kids,” she said.

The schedule is based on years of research and is set to ensure children have immunity at the time when they’re most at risk for contracting the disease, Dannen said. For example, the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine is given in five doses between ages 2 months and 6 years. Doses begin in infancy because babies are at highest risk for complications and death from pertussis.

“We know how deadly it can be,” Melnick said. “That’s why we don’t want to delay.”

While only 78 percent of Clark County kindergartners were up-to-date on their vaccines last school year, about 85 percent were up-to-date on their DTaP vaccines, according to state health department data.

About 12 percent of local kindergartners were out-of-compliance with vaccines, meaning they either didn’t have the required vaccines or hadn’t submitted immunization documentation to their school.

In addition, about 7 percent of Clark County kindergartners had immunization exemptions.

Only about 1 percent of local kindergartners had exemptions due to medical issues. The majority of local exemptions — more than 5 percent — were for personal or philosophical reasons. Those exemptions require only a signed form saying a physician has informed the parent about the benefits of vaccines.

The high number of personal exemptions is tragic, Melnick said.

“It puts all of the kids at risk,” he said.