The school year may be kicking off online, but parents still have to make sure their children have up-to-date vaccinations.
Concerned that scheduling vaccinations may have been a problem for many parents because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed many regular doctors’ visits, public health and school officials are reminding parents of the importance of getting vaccinations for their children.
Across Washington, children received fewer vaccinations earlier this year, according to the state Department of Health. At the Child and Adolescent Clinic in Longview, child well-visits decreased in the spring, and doctors are reminding parents that it’s safe to bring children in for appointments.
Combined with another wave of COVID-19, an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease could be devastating for families and the health care system, said Carole Harrison, interim director of the health department.
Blaine Tolby, pediatrician at Child and Adolescent Clinic, said it’s taken some reminders, but more families scheduling regular visits, including for immunizations.
“There was much more apprehension in March, April and May,” Tolby said. “I think people are getting better with that.”
Clinic staff wear protective gear and are screened for symptoms, according to the Child and Adolescent Clinic website. Families check in by phone and wait in their cars instead of in the reception area. The clinic only sees well patients in the morning and sick patients in the afternoon to minimize exposure.
Tolby said although the data suggests that kids under 10 are not as likely to show symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not entirely clear if they are asymptomatic carriers and spreaders of the virus. School superintendents have been “meticulous” in planning a safe transition back to school, Tolby said.
State law requires that students meet immunization requirements on or before the first day of physical attendance. The law prohibits students from attending school or child care centers until they have medically verified records proving they are in compliance.
Students who cannot meet the requirements by the first day of school and are fully participating in remote learning don’t have to be excluded, according to guidelines from the health department and Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). However, students must be in compliance when they are back on campus for any reason, include extracurricular activities, according to the state.
Parents can submit exemptions for medical, religious or personal/philosophical reasons. In 2019, the Legislature passed a law removing the option for parents to submit a personal or philosophical exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine after an outbreak of measles cases earlier in the year. Parents can still select a personal or philosophical exemption for other vaccines, but not for the MMR vaccine.