Free immunizations still available for school-age students

South Colby Elementary School student Olivia Carley, 11, was among the students who were vaccinated during Saturday
South Colby Elementary School student Olivia Carley, 11, was among the students who were vaccinated during Saturday's Back to School Celebration.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo

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 old during Saturday’s Back to School Celebration at South Kitsap High School.

With about two hours remaining in the event, SKSD nurse Susan Anderson, who oversees East Port Orchard, Mullennix Ridge and Olalla Elementary schools, said about 30 students were immunized.

Anderson said immunizations particularly are important this year because of the pertussis epidemic. According to a Seattle Times story last month, the Department of Health reported 3,000 cases of pertussis so far this year. There were 965 cases in 2011 and 608 cases in ‘10.

While numbers fluctuate each year, Anderson said 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. “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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