Measles Outbreak Vaccine Exemptions

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2019 file photo a sign prohibiting all children under 12 and unvaccinated adults stands at the entrance to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash.

This editorial originally appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:

Starting this school year, more students, teachers and employees will have been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella before returning to classes this fall.

We all benefit as a result.

Following the recent outbreak of measles in Washington state, lawmakers looked at reducing exemptions so that a higher portion of the population would be inoculated. About 90 percent of people in a community need to be immunized for measles to provide community immunity that helps reduce the spread of measles, said Dr. Amy Person, health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District.

Under the new law now in effect, parents who had previously used the personal and philosophical exemptions will need to vaccinate their children to enroll them in school or child care. (Exemptions for medical and religious reasons have been left intact.) It also requires all adults working in schools and child care centers to provide proof of vaccination or immunity from measles.

The outbreak in Washington earlier this year was serious. And it’s still a concern.

Washington is still in outbreak status with the measles. No cases have been confirmed within the past two weeks, although that does not mean the threat is gone. The most recent outbreak, mostly in Clark County, has 13 confirmed case. That brings 96 total cases so far in 2019. Of those affected, most have been between the ages of 1 and 10, with cases among 11- to 18-year-olds coming in second.

This new law is critical to public health because it significantly reduces the risk of another outbreak. The higher the population that has been vaccinated, the lower the chances that avoidable and potentially deadly illnesses don’t spread. It’s particularly important to stop the spread of disease to those with medical problems who can’t be vaccinated and babies who are too young to be vaccinated.

A child with immune system deficiencies who can’t safely be vaccinated can be kept free from ailments such as polio, whooping cough and mumps — and yes, measles — if he or she lives in a community where the vast majority of people got their shots.

All children deserve an equal shot at good health. And because vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, even kids who have had their shots are put at risk by people who foolishly avoid them.

Children are already required to be vaccinated against or show proof of acquired immunity for nearly a dozen diseases — including polio, whooping cough and mumps — before they can attend school or child care centers. The law that went into effect this month reduces the exemptions for the MMR vaccine.

The change in the law will affect few families, as most already had their children vaccinated, but it could save suffering and lives. Four percent of Washington K-12 students had nonmedical vaccine exemptions last year, according to the state Department of Health. Of those, 3.7 percent of the exemptions are personal, and the rest are religious.

Removing the personal and philosophical exemption was a smart call for all Washingtonians.