Starting this fall, Washington state students have been required to receive a measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine before their first day of school.
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee signed EHB 1638, a bill updating Washington state’s school and child care immunization requirements to remove the personal and philosophical exemption option for the MMR vaccine.
Measles in Washington
The measles virus is extremely contagious, and can be serious, especially for young children.
Symptoms include fever, rash, cough and red, watery eyes. A person can contract measles from an infected person as early as four days before they have a rash and for up to four days after the rash appears, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
Since January there have been 12 measles outbreaks in King County and 86 outbreaks statewide.
In May, a staff member at Issaquah High School (IHS) was diagnosed with measles. The staff member was one of five new cases of measles that was recently identified by the DOH.
According to the Issaquah School District (ISD), Public Health of Seattle and King County advised the high school that it needed to verify the immunization status of all staff. In order to allow staff the needed time to obtain their records and share them with administrators, IHS closed May 16.
In the Northshore School District (NSD), a high school student at North Creek High School was another of the group diagnosed with the measles.
Both school districts urged families to monitor their students for signs of measles. Students who may have had measles were asked to stay away from school and see their primary care provider immediately.
The new exemption law change
The bill took effect July 28. It applies to public and private schools as well as child cares. The law removes the option for a personal and philosophical exemption to the MMR vaccine requirement for schools and child cares. It also requires employees and volunteers at child care centers to provide immunization records indicating they have received the MMR vaccine or proof of immunity.
“Measles outbreaks across the U.S. demonstrate why this bill is so vitally important. As a nation, we must step up our leadership to educate the public about the critical role vaccines have in keeping us healthy and safe and continue working with communities to improve vaccination rates,” Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a release. “We’re grateful for the Legislature and Gov. Inslee’s dedication to protecting public health and for the leadership of Rep. [Paul] Harris and Sen. [Annette] Cleveland.”
What students and families need to know
Students had a limited time to receive their MMR vaccine before the first day of school. According to several school district releases, including Issaquah, Northshore, Lake Washington, Bellevue, Mercer Island and Snoqualmie Valley, two doses of MMR are required for all students in grades K-12 before school starts.
“If a student has had a personal or philosophical exemption in the past, we must now have documentation of MMR immunization from a health care provider on or before the first day of school on Sept. 4, 2019 as a condition of enrollment. The new law does not affect religious or medical exemptions,” according to the district releases. “Two doses of MMR are required for all students in grades K-12. The two doses must be given at least 28 days apart. When your child has a first MMR vaccination, please let your school nurse know the date it occurred as well as the date the second dose is administered.”
Washington state still allows exemptions from the MMR vaccine for medical, personal or religious reasons when obtained and signed by a provider and then reported to the students’ schools. Students who have one of these types of exemptions on file are not affected by the new law.
Students who did not receive the MMR vaccine, did not present documentation of MMR immunization, or did not present documentation of MMR exemption before school started may still attend school through alternative learning experiences. Should a student enroll in any activities, such as band, orchestra, or sports, or participate in school transportation, or attend events where they may share air space with other students, they will need to meet the same immunization requirements as traditional students.
For more information, view the DOH’s Immunization Manual For Schools, Preschools, and Child Care Centers.