Washington students are running out of time to comply with the new measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunization requirements.
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee signed EHB 1638, a bill updating Washington state’s school and child care immunization requirements to remove the personal and philosophical exemption option for the MMR vaccine.
Washington state still allows exemptions from the MMR vaccine for medical or religious reasons when obtained and signed by a provider and then reported to the students’ schools. Students who have one of these exemptions on file are not affected by the new law.
Measles in Washington
The measles virus is contagious, and can be serious, especially for young children.
Symptoms include fever, rash, cough, and red, watery eyes. A person can contract measles from an infected person as early as four days before they have a rash and for up to four days after the rash appears, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
Since January there have been 12 measles outbreaks in King County and 86 outbreaks statewide.
In May, a staff member at Issaquah High School (IHS) was diagnosed with measles. The staff member was one of five new cases of measles that was recently identified by the DOH.
In the Northshore School District (NSD), a student at North Creek High School was another of the group diagnosed with the measles.
Both school districts urged families to monitor their students for signs of measles. Students who may have had measles were asked to stay away from school and see their primary care provider immediately.
EHB 1638 took effect July 28. It applies to public and private schools as well as child care centers. The law removes the option for a personal and philosophical exemption to the MMR vaccine requirement for schools and child care. It also requires employees and volunteers at child care centers to provide immunization records indicating they have received the MMR vaccine or proof of immunity.
“Measles outbreaks across the U.S. demonstrate why this bill is so vitally important. As a nation, we must step up our leadership to educate the public about the critical role vaccines have in keeping us healthy and safe and continue working with communities to improve vaccination rates,” Washington state secretary of health John Wiesman said in a release. “We’re grateful for the Legislature and Gov. Inslee’s dedication to protecting public health and for the leadership of Rep. [Paul] Harris and Sen. [Annette] Cleveland.”
For many Washington school districts, the deadline to comply with the requirements was around mid October through early November.
The goal was to have full compliance before the first day of school in September.
According to several school district releases, including Mercer Island, Issaquah, Northshore, Lake Washington, Bellevue and Snoqualmie Valley, two doses of MMR were required for all students in grades K-12 before school started.
“If a student has had a personal or philosophical exemption in the past, we must now have documentation of MMR immunization from a health care provider on or before the first day of school on Sept. 4, 2019, as a condition of enrollment. The new law does not affect religious or medical exemptions,” according to the district releases. “Two doses of MMR are required for all students in grades K-12. The two doses must be given at least 28 days apart. When your child has a first MMR vaccination, please let your school nurse know the date it occurred as well as the date the second dose is administered.”
However, many students failed to meet that requirement by the first day of school. Several Eastside school districts are working with families to get their students vaccinated or claim medical or religious exemption so they don’t have to be kept away from school.
For the Lake Washington School District (LWSD), there are currently three students who lack proper documentation on immunizations or certificates of exemption due to the change in state law.
“These are students who had personal/philosophical exemptions in the past,” LWSD director of communications Shannon Parthemer said. “These three students previously had this type of exemption, and are currently being excluded from school as they have not provided the proper documentation required by state law.”