PACIFIC COUNTY — Immunization rates are gradually getting better across the state. In 2016, Pacific County had one of the highest overall rates of immunization for schoolchildren, with significantly more fully vaccinated kids than in some neighboring counties.
However, there is still room for improvement. Recent reports from the state Department of Health (DOH) show that parents are still waiting too long to vaccinate. The number of Washington kids with medical, religious or personal exemptions is double the national average, and a recent outbreak of mumps demonstrated just how quickly dangerous illnesses can rebound when immunization rates drop.
After a deeply flawed 1997 study claimed a link between vaccinations and autism, vaccination rates in the Evergreen State took a nosedive. Years later, the study has been discredited and rates are slowly climbing again. But they haven’t fully recovered.
Too many parents are still waiting to protect their kids from disease until they enter kindergarten, according to DOH. In 2014, about 67 percent of Washington kids between 19 and 35 months old were fully immunized. In 2015 (the most recent year for which data for young children is available), the number of protected kids had increased by almost 10 percent.
In the 2016-2017 school year, about 85 percent of kindergarteners and 87 percent of all schoolchildren in kindergarten through twelfth grade had all of the required vaccinations.
During the same period, about 87 percent of Pacific County kindergartners and 92 percent of all county school children in kindergarten through 12th grade had complete vaccinations, placing the county well ahead of state averages.
Pacific County’s numbers were considerably better than in some other nearby counties. In Lewis County, about 90 percent of school-aged children were fully vaccinated during the current school year. Just 84 percent of Grays Harbor kids and 82 percent of Wahkiaukum kids were fully vaccinated.
Although the myths about an autism link have been thoroughly debunked, some Washington families are still more afraid of the immunizations than of the diseases they prevent. According to DOH, Washington’s exemption rate for students in all grades is about five percent, compared to two percent, nationwide.
Statewide, the exemption rates ranged from just 1.5 percent in Yakima county, to more than 17 percent in Pend Oreille County, and 14 percent in Jefferson County. Pacific County’s overall exemption rate is about four percent.
Scientists say current compliance rates aren’t good enough to protect society from the threat of infectious diseases. According to the federal Center for Disease Control, about 90 percent of the population must be immunized to prevent serious infectious diseases from spreading. Their health experts say that the elimination of childhood diseases is one of the main reasons why people now live much longer, healthier lives than in the past. They estimate that routine vaccinations save about 33,000 lives, prevent 14 million case of infection disease, and save around $9.9 billion in direct healthcare costs each year.
Washington has recently seen evidence that contagious disease of the past can make a rebound In 1964, there were more than 21,000 Washington cases of mumps, a very contagious airborne virus that can cause severe complications, including brain damage and hearing loss. By 1977, immunization against the disease was becoming widespread, and the state recorded just 377 cases, according to DOH.
For a while, mumps was virtually eradicated — in 1999, the state had just two cases. However, Washington got an unhappy reminder of the bad old days, when mumps broke out in fall 2016. Since last October, there have been 823 cases of mumps, statewide.