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News / Health / Clark County Health

Measles outbreak: 754 kids missed school

Students excluded for not completing their MMR vaccines

By Wyatt Stayner, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 17, 2019, 6:02am

As a result of the county’s measles outbreak, Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground public schools temporarily excluded 754 students for not completing their MMR vaccinations.

The 754 excluded students were among 7,567 attending 10 Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground public schools. There are 14 public schools, private schools and day care centers identified as measles exposure locations by Clark County Public Health.

Evergreen Public Schools reported 218 exclusions from four schools and Vancouver reported 138 exclusions from three sites where children were exposed to measles. Battle Ground excluded 74 students from Tukes Valley Primary and Middle School, 81 from Maple Grove School (K-8) and 243 from River HomeLink, the school system’s home school program, in which students can have on-campus hours.

During a school exclusion, children can do their assignments at home, but cannot attend classes or on-campus events.

“The challenge for us when something like an outbreak happens, where we have to exclude students, is that we want our students in school,” said Battle Ground spokesperson Rita Sanders. “Research has shown that one of the important things about succeeding is that students be in school. When we have to exclude students, that’s really hard.”

Exclusion periods in all three school districts have now expired, so all students can fully participate in school again. But for unvaccinated children, there is a cost during outbreaks like this. Kids miss school, and their parents have to figure out child care arrangements and make alternative plans.

“The school continues on as normal. It’s the children who don’t have the shots that are forced to stay out of school (and) are the ones being harmed,” said Gail Spolar, Evergreen’s executive director of communications and community engagement.

Evergreen vaccination rates increasing

According to state statistics for the 2017-18 school year, 53.9 percent of Evergreen students had completed all immunizations. That was the lowest percentage in Clark County and the seventh-lowest rate in Washington. Yet only 5.8 percent of students had any kind of vaccination exemption on file for personal, medical or religious reasons.

That means about 40 percent of students attending Evergreen were out of compliance with immunization requirements. There could be many reasons for not complying: not receiving the final shots in a series of vaccinations, needing to wait on a vaccination due to spacing required between vaccinations, or needing new vaccinations required by Washington after moving from another state.

Holly Long, Evergreen’s health services manager, said it’s her personal mission to improve vaccination rates. Since November 2017, when this state data was compiled, Evergreen’s out-of-compliance rate has fallen from around 40 percent to 25 percent.

“We were working on improving those numbers before this outbreak happened,” Long said.

The measles outbreak has also led to increased measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations for Evergreen students.

As of Jan. 18, Evergreen had 7.3 percent of students who were out of compliance with the MMR vaccine, which requires two doses. As of Feb. 8, the number dropped to 3.3 percent, according to statistics provided by Long. Evergreen also had 12.6 percent of students with an exemption on file for the MMR vaccine as of Jan. 18, and now it is at 4.1 percent.

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Vancouver district spokesperson Pat Nuzzo said about five excluded students received full MMR vaccinations during the exclusion periods. She said a handful of parents at Lieser School provided updated immunization records for their students during the outbreak.

According to DOH statistics for the previous school year, Battle Ground documented 86.3 percent of students as completing all immunizations, with another 12.2 percent having any kind of exemption. Battle Ground didn’t have updated statistics on vaccination rates, Sanders said.

About 95 percent of this year’s kindergarten class for Evergreen were completely immunized, which medical professionals say is around the mark a community needs for herd immunity. Long and Spolar think Evergreen is improving in this area, and that the outbreak has sped things up.

“I do think it takes something like this outbreak, we’ve also had whooping cough outbreaks in the past as well,” Long said. “That always catches people’s attention and makes it perhaps more urgent and immediate.”

Columbian staff writer