Dozens of people are sick with measles after an outbreak in Clark County, Washington. Use our tool to look up the vaccination level in your children's school.
Why would some parents not protect their child from a serious illness if a safe and effective vaccine exists?
That is the question many ask here, while Washington is fighting against an unprecedented epidemic of measles – 50 confirmed cases this year, including 49 in Clark County and one in King. Governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency on 25 January.
"There are families in Washington who choose not to vaccinate when they can," said Danielle Koenig from the Ministry of Health.
Indeed, Washington has one of the highest percentages of student vaccines exemptions in the nation. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published last year reported that the percentage of kindergartners in Washington with a vaccine exemption was more than twice the national median. Interestingly, the northwest has the highest exemption rates in the country, with Oregon, Idaho and Alaska being the top three states, in that order. Washington is in eighth place.
All 50 states allow student vaccination exemption for medical reasons, and almost all of them do religious beliefs. But only 17, including Washington, grant exemptions for people with moral, personal or philosophical objections against vaccines. Roughly three of the four exemptions in Washington are for those reasons, including the belief vaccines that can cause autism, which has been refuted by CDC investigations.
For the school year 2017-2018, about 4 percent of K-12 students in Washington received a non-medical exemption, whereby the student was exempted from one or more vaccinations. Another 1 percent received an exemption for medical reasons.
Specifically for the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), 3 percent of Washington students received an exemption – about 33,000 children.
"That's how diseases can spread – if we get too many non-immunized people in a population, the disease can reach a higher level," Koenig said. "If anyone who can be vaccinated protects and surrounds them, they can not be vaccinated for medical reasons."
To achieve this "herd immunity" for measles, which is particularly contagious, a vaccination rate of more than 90 percent is required.
Alarmingly, data for the 2017-2018 school year of the Ministry of Health show that there are 75 schools in the provinces of King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap, where at least 10 percent of K-12 students received an exemption for the MMR vaccine .
The highest percentage of exemptions was at the Tacoma Christian Academy, where 56 percent of the 275 students had a MMR exemption. Among public schools, the highest percentage on Family Link of Vashon Island was 31 percent.
In Seattle, the Seattle Waldorf School had the highest percentage, with 22 percent of the students being exempted from the MMR vaccine. No public school in the city comes close here. Summit Atlas, a public charter school in West Seattle, was the highest with 7 percent of the students exempt.
In Bellevue the highest percentage was on another campus of the Seattle Waldorf School, called Three Cedars, which was closed last summer. More than a third of the students received a MMR exemption there. At a public school on the Eastside – Emerson K-12 in Kirkland, a Choice School & # 39; working with families who bring their children to school – a quarter of the students were exempt.
As high as the exemption rate in Washington, it has dropped from the peak of about 10 years ago, when almost 8 percent of pre-schoolers had received state-wide exemption.
"It started to become very popular after a few years ago incorrect information appeared about the dangers of vaccines," Koenig said. "Once those myths have been picked up and the state has also made exemptions that are a bit harder to get, we have seen that the rates start to fall."
The state began demanding parents to bring the vaccine exemption form to a doctor to have a discussion about the risks of non-vaccination. Then the doctor has to sign the form, says Koenig.
Yet there are still a handful of counties in Washington where at least one in 10 K-12 students has a vaccine exemption. The highest percentage – 13.5 percent in the 2017-2018 school year – is in Jefferson County, where Port Townsend is located.
In the Seattle area, Snohomish County has the highest percentage of exemptions, namely 6 percent. King is about 4 percent.
The lowest percentage in the state is in Yakima County, less than 2 percent.
Because the anti-vaccination movement is often found in rich, liberal areas such as Marin County in California – or locally, on Vashon Island – it is sometimes described as the left-wing version of the denial of climate change. Both movements reject an established science.
But vaccine deniers are not just liberal hippies. Some religious communities are also strong against vaccinations. In the Department of Public Health data, we see that private schools in the Seattle area – particularly schools for religious and progressive education – have a significantly higher percentage of students with vaccine exemptions than public schools.
Koenig points out that not all parents who do not vaccinate their children do so from some philosophical or religious objection.
"There are some access problems with vaccination, especially in rural areas where people may not be able to go to a doctor," she said. "There may be transportation problems, and many families are busy and may just forget or postpone it to the doctor."
Koenig says that after an outbreak, as we now experience, there is usually a peak in immunizations.
"But then the course starts to fall again," she said.
Demand for the measles vaccine is rising in Washington – even those who had shunned the shots