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Hundreds of kids on notice to get MMR vaccine, find new exemption or stay out of class

Getting vaccinated can help stop measles from spreading

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
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Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The first day of school started for 30,000 Tacoma Public Schools students on Thursday.

For roughly 350 of those students, that first day also triggered a countdown.

Come October, families of students listed as being exempt from the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination due to personal reasons will have to prove their kids have been vaccinated or provide new exemption paperwork that shows they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.

If not, they’ll be notified by the district that their students cannot attend class until they satisfy requirements of state law.

“We follow the state law,” district spokesman Dan Voelpel said in an email. “If a family fails to meet the 30-day deadline, we will notify that family that we are required by law to exclude their child from school.”

Tacoma’s not alone. Districts across the state are notifying parents that personal exemptions for the MMR vaccine will no longer be accepted in order to attend school.

The change comes after the Legislature passed a bill in April that removes the option for a personal or philosophical exemption for kids attending schools and child care facilities. Religious and medical exemptions are still accepted. The law went into effect on July 28.

Supporters of the bill testified at the time that the “measles outbreak in Washington is larger and faster than any in history.” In 2019, Washington state has seen 86 cases of measles, with two of the infections occurring in Pierce County. The outbreak was declared over on Aug. 28.

Opponents said the bill “forces medical interventions on people without informed consent” and that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”

In Tacoma, about 97 percent of students are vaccinated. As of this school year, there are 1,059 vaccination exemptions. Those exemptions break down to:

Parental (personal): 778 (369 MMR)

Religious: 117 (110 MMR)

Religious Membership: 56 (45 MMR)

Medical: 139 (74 MMR)

In a religious exemption, a student’s beliefs do not support vaccines. In a religious membership exemption, a student’s beliefs do not support any medical intervention, including but not limited to vaccines, antibiotics and physicals.

A religious exemption requires a certificate of exemption signed by a parent or legal guardian. A medical exemption requires a certification of exemption signed by a health care practitioner.

Families can access immunization records online through the Washington State Immunization Information System.

In May, the district sent a letter to families with either personal or philosophical exemptions, notifying them of the upcoming changes.

“Children without a medical or religious exemption will need two doses of MMR vaccine to be allowed into school,” the letter states. “Because MMR vaccine doses must be administered at least a month apart, your child may be entered into school if they have paperwork showing at least one dose of MMR vaccine by the beginning of the school year.

“By notifying you before the end of the 2018-2019 school year, we hope you will have sufficient time to meet the new immunization requirements for the next school year,” the letter went on.

Some families already have made the change. In the 2018-19 school year there were 794 personal exemptions on file, with 543 including the MMR vaccine. This school year, there are 778, with 369 of those including the MMR vaccine.

Students who were not in compliance with the new rules as of the first day of attendance have 30 days to provide new documentation, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“As a community, we must protect our own health and work together to protect each other’s health,” stated the district in its letter to parents. “Choosing to immunize is one of the most important decisions you can make to protect yourself, your children, your family, and the community from diseases that vaccines prevent.”

The Washington Vaccines for Children Program provides free vaccinations to kids under 19. For more information, visit tpchd.org.

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