State officials’ decision not to enforce immunization requirements for students learning remotely is a mistake that only postpones the inevitable.
Far from simplifying matters, delaying verification of state-mandated inoculations until the resumption of in-person learning will unnecessarily complicate the return to school.
Even before this unusual semester, Washington’s public schools were inconsistent in enforcing state vaccination laws intended to protect public health and safety. Last year, for example, even though state law generally gives students no more than 30 days from their first day of attendance to show proof of vaccination or allowable exemption, several districts in the Puget Sound region, including Seattle Public Schools, waited until January to follow through. Others, like Bellevue School District, said they would not exclude noncompliant students at all.
In 2019, lawmakers wisely tightened school and day-care immunization requirements by eliminating personal and philosophical exemptions for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) inoculations. More changes were scheduled to take effect this fall that would clarify rules for students who are catching up on required immunizations.
But the state Department of Health and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has recommended that schools immediately enroll students in remote instruction regardless of whether their shots are up to date. The guidance does state that noncompliant students should be excluded from physically attending school, even for small group learning and extracurricular activities, unless they are exempt. It was written in response to concerns aired by several district superintendents who felt families would have a difficult time getting students into compliance, an OSPI spokeswoman said.
The state saw a troubling decrease in routine vaccinations during this spring’s health emergency. That is worrisome in a state that has seen firsthand the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable diseases. It has been less than two years since a measles outbreak in Clark County kept hundreds of students out of classrooms for weeks and was estimated to cost public-health departments more than $1 million.
Vaccination rules are potentially lifesaving measures that don’t only prevent the spread of deadly viruses in classrooms, but also among the public at large. They should be enforced regardless of where students are learning.
This year, of all years, parents and guardians should be held accountable for immunizing their kids.