More Blaine students are vaccinated for measles this year, following recent outbreaks and a new state law that removed an exemption that allowed students to forego the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for personal or philosophical beliefs.
Currently, about 95.8 percent of Blaine K–12 students are immunized against measles, said Blaine school district nurse Jodi Greene. Last year, about 91.7 percent of students were immunized against measles.
That may not sound like a big difference, but it’s huge in terms of herd immunity, a form of indirect protection whereby a high enough percentage of a population is immunized, thus conferring protection for those not immune. The threshold for herd immunity to measles is 93 to 95 percent, according to the World Health Organization.
“Last year we did not reach that herd immunity threshold, so that’s huge,” Greene said.
Washington state had two measles outbreaks earlier this year, with 86 total cases, according to the Washington State Department of Health, and there were similar outbreaks around the country. The first outbreak saw 72 confirmed cases from January to May. The second saw 14 confirmed cases between May and August. The majority of cases were in children 10 and younger and four people were hospitalized, according to the state health department.
In response, state legislators removed the personal belief exemption from the MMR vaccinations for students. The state bill took effect July 28, 2019 and applies to public and private schools. Students and families can still apply for medical and religious exemptions from the MMR vaccine.
The recent outbreak made an impression on families in the Blaine school district, Greene said.
“Seeing that students can get affected by measles, I think that was a huge eye opener for families,” she said.
The school district’s health room team worked hard to help families comply with the new law, Greene said. When the law passed, district nurses and health assistants sent out letters to all families, and they reached out again before school started this fall. While some students who had personal exemptions to MMR got vaccinated, others obtained religious exemptions or lab tests to prove immunity, Greene said.
The district wasn’t alone in its efforts; specialists from PeaceHealth and the Whatcom County Health Department came to the district’s back to school fair to provide free vaccines for students and adults. The county health department regularly offers immunization clinics.
“It’s really exciting to see the effort going into protecting our kids and our families,” Greene said.
At the beginning of the school year, several students without proof of vaccination or a certificate of exemption were not allowed to come to school, but returned after getting the first of two required MMR doses. Currently, no students are excluded from school because of the new law.
Measles is a contagious respiratory illness. It causes a rash and fever and can be deadly in rare cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most children don’t have side effects from the vaccine. Side effects that do occur may include soreness, temporary pain, fever and mild rash, according to the CDC.
Nationally, more than 1,200 measles cases have been reported in the U.S. in 2019, with most cases in New York. That’s the most cases in the U.S. in a single year since 1992, according to the CDC.
State law requires students to be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, Hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox). Families can still claim a personal exemption for vaccines other than MMR.
For the 2018-2019 school year, 88.5 percent of Blaine students had completed all required vaccinations. Statewide, 88.8 percent of students had all their vaccines and 87.3 percent of Whatcom County students did, according to the state Department of Health.