Aug 18, 2022 - News

Seattle kids fall behind on vaccines required for school

Illustration of the first two boxes have a checkmark made of a syringe, and the third box has a large X in the middle.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Public health officials are urging parents to get their kids up-to-date on immunizations before the school year starts, after fewer children received routine vaccinations since the start of the pandemic.

Why it matters: While Washington state doesn't require K-12 students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school, students are required to be up-to-date on seven other vaccinations, unless they receive an exemption.

  • The mandated shots protect against measles, chickenpox, whooping cough and polio, among other diseases.

By the numbers: In 2021, 13% fewer vaccines were administered to King County children between 4 and 6 years old, compared to the pre-pandemic average from 2015 to 2019, according to the county health department.

The latest: Public Health — Seattle & King County is encouraging parents to take their children to one of several free vaccination clinics between now and late September.

  • The health clinics will also offer vaccines that aren't required for school, such as those that prevent HPV, meningococcal disease and COVID-19.
  • Clinics starting in September will offer flu shots, too.

What they're saying: "Childhood vaccinations are vital to protect both our children and the community from serious illnesses," Jeff Duchin, county health officer, said in a news release.

  • "...The only reason we don't see diseases like childhood meningitis, measles, polio, and tetanus more often today is because the majority of children are vaccinated," he added.

Between the lines: While people can apply for their children to be exempt from school vaccine requirements for philosophical, religious or medical reasons, in most cases, exemption forms require a doctor's signature.

  • Of note: People can no longer be exempted from the measles vaccine based on philosophical exemptions, following a law the Legislature passed in 2019.

What's next: School districts across Washington state have different start dates, but classes generally resume at the very end of August or in early September.

  • For most students in Seattle Public Schools, the first day of class is Sept. 7.
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