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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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In Our View: Put vaccines on back-to-school to-do list

The Columbian

Believe it or not, the start of the school year is less than three weeks away. Students in districts throughout Clark County return to class the final week of August, meaning that now is the time to stockpile school supplies and school clothes and whatever other necessities are required for a successful school year.

It also is time to ensure that your student is up-to-date on required vaccinations.

No, that does not mean a COVID-19 vaccine. After 2½ years of discussion and rancor, schools in Washington do not require students to be immunized against coronavirus. As Vox.com reported this week: “No state in the country is planning to require student vaccinations, a marked turnaround from where things seemed to be headed last winter, when multiple states and school districts suggested vaccine mandates were coming soon.”

That requirement has not materialized. And the vehement opinions on both sides of the issue will be studied by sociologists for generations to come.

Some 10 months ago, Washington required public employees to receive COVID vaccines in order to remain employed by the state. Superintendent Chris Reykdal asked Gov. Jay Inslee to include public teachers in that requirement; by the late October deadline, Reykdal’s office reported that about 90 percent of people working in classrooms with children had complied or received exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

“What we are seeing is stunning because in every single county in the state of Washington, our educators exceeded the overall vaccinated population in that county, sometimes twice as much,” Reykdal said at the time. “Schools are quite frankly the safest place for kids to be.”

Since then, there has been a palpable public shift regarding COVID response and vaccines. In short, it seems that we have accepted the virus as a way of life, choosing to accept COVID as a reasonable risk.

Infection rates have ebbed and flowed in Clark County and the rest of Washington. Throughout the state, 74 percent of the population is regarded as fully vaccinated; that is unlikely to change, as people long ago settled on personal opinions about the vaccine.

We hope that a combination of vaccines and commonsense precautions mean that schools remain the safest place for students to be. Nationally, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, 31 percent of children ages 5-11 have been fully vaccinated, and 61 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have been.

But we have buried the lead. While COVID has dominated the discussion about vaccines for nearly two years, we offer a reminder that Washington does require other vaccinations for school attendance.

Students in kindergarten through sixth grade, for example, must be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, measles, mumps rubella, polio and chicken pox. It is all part of an approach that has vastly reduced childhood disease in recent generations, a strategy that protects not only your child but their classmates.

In 2019, the Legislature removed some exemptions to the MMR vaccine. Republican Paul Harris and Democrat Monica Stonier, both of Vancouver, led that fight following a severe measles outbreak in Clark County. “I think every child has a right to participate in our community as a healthy, thriving child,” Stonier said at the time.

That, of course, is the point of childhood vaccines. And they should be part of back-to-school preparations this year.