SCHOOLS | Free immunizations among Back to School Celebration highlights

From haircuts to picking up pencils, there are no shortage of activities for children during South Kitsap School District’s annual “Back to School Celebration” held Saturday at the high school’s track.

SKSD education services executive assistant Jonell Ude said more than 5,000 people attended the event last year.

District officials expect as many to participate in the event this year. Ude said it is open to families with students enrolled in SKSD, and there is no charge for admission or any service at the event.

“The focus of the Back to School Celebration is getting students excited about going back to school,” said Ude, adding that visitors also can park at nearby Saint Gabriel Catholic Church with a shuttle taking them to the high school. “It’s also about connecting students and families to local resources.

More than 60 vendors are expected to participate in the event to offer an array of services.

“Because of the state of our budget, this is a community-funded event,” Ude said. “We have many sponsors that help us out here.”

One of the most popular services are the immunizations. Multiple studies by the Centers for Disease Control show that Washington state regularly has near the highest percentage of kindergartners opting out of some or all immunizations in the United States.

To combat that issue, South Kitsap School District teamed with Harrison Medical Center to offer free immunizations for anyone from birth to 18 years during the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

SKSD nurse Susan Anderson, who oversees East Port Orchard, Mullennix Ridge and Olalla Elementary schools, could not be reached for comment. But she said during last year’s Back to School Celebration that 30 youths were immunized.

While numbers fluctuate each year, Anderson said in August 2012 that 150 among the approximately 1,500 students on her campuses are not compliant with immunizations some years. She said Kitsap County often features among the highest noncompliant numbers in the state, which she said might relate to the area’s “transient” population.

“It’s getting better every year,” she said at the time. “It always is a challenge the first of the year.”

This was the only time where the district has free immunizations available, but Anderson said parents can schedule an appointment with their physician or Mary Bridge Children Express in Gig Harbor if they could not attend the Back to School Celebration.

Anderson recommends that parents keep records of immunizations because “every child has a different requirement.” But she added that it would not be harmful to a child if they inadvertently received shots again. That occasionally happens in SKSD, Anderson said, when children in military families come from overseas as those records often are received late.

Children can be exempted from vaccinations through a doctor’s signature. Anderson said there is a high rate of exemptions in Washington with some resulting from religious affiliation and others because of a purported link to autism.

“They’ve studied that over and over again and have not found any conclusive evidence,” she said.

Previously, parents could sign a note to have their children exempted from some or all immunizations and enroll in school. But that changed when state legislators passed a bill, which took effect last year, that requires a doctor’s signature.

“Most of today’s parents weren’t around to see how bad diseases like measles and whooping cough were before vaccines helped bring them under control,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a 2011 news release. “We’ve done a good job fending off those diseases with vaccines, but we can’t be complacent; we’re seeing them start to make a comeback and too many of our kids are vulnerable.”

Anderson said that exempted children also run the risk of missing school because they must be held out if there is an outbreak of one of the illnesses, such as measles, mumps and rubella.

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