Immunizations' Strongest Affect: Preventing Spread of Disease

By Tom Bacon

There's a fun part of back-to-school preparations - new backpacks, shoes, clothes and stuff like that. But there's an "ugh" part, too  - immunizations.

In 2008, Washington had one of the highest rates of immunization exemptions in the nation, something like 7-point-6 percent of kindergarten kids. But two years ago, the state changed the rules for parents trying to get their children exempted from being vaccinated.

Doctor Ed Marcuse, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington, led a push to separate vaccine records from exemption forms. Parents had to be counseled about vaccine-preventable diseases, and get their children's doctor to sign a form proving that counseling had taken place.

That led to a sharp drop in un-vaccinated kids, from 6.2-percent in 2010 to just over 4.5-percent last year. Marcuse said the point was not to hassle parents with bureaucracy, but to be sure they made thoughtful and well-informed decisions.

Public health experts depend on herd immunity to slow some communicable diseases such as mumps. In other words, if about 75 percent of children in close contact are immunized, the disease can't spread far. But in the case of highly contagious disease such as measles or pertussis, collective immunity must be at least 94 percent. Herd immunity failed to stop an extensive outbreak of whooping cough last year in Washington.

Children who have not gotten the required vaccines as school starts are admitted on a conditional status. They then have 30 days to get caught up.
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