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Hundreds of Seattle students miss school over vaccinations

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Posted at 12:30 PM, Jan 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-09 12:30:35-05

More than 450 students in Seattle Public Schools were barred from attending classes Wednesday if they didn't have complete immunization records after a new state law took effect for the first time.

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that no longer allows exemptions for personal or philosophical reasons when it comes to the combined measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. Students needed to be fully vaccinated or be in the process of completing immunizations in order to attend school Wednesday, according to Seattle Public Schools.

The new law still allows for religious and medical exemptions, or personal and philosophical exemptions for other vaccines.

"Student who are out of compliance with the Washington state immunization law on Wednesday, January 8, will be excluded from attending school and should not report to school," a post on Seattle Public Schools website reads. "If students without updated immunization records arrive at school they will be placed in a designated room or space and families will be called to come pick up their child. Students must remain out of school until immunization record compliance is met."

The new law came in the wake of widespread measles outbreaks. 2019 was the worst year for measles in the United States since the '90s, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2019, there were 1,282 cases of measles in 31 states — the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.

The majority of the people who got measles were unvaccinated, the CDC says.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, the state had two outbreaks of measles in 2019, totaling 87 cases — the most measles cases they had seen since 1990.

The new vaccine law seems to be working in curbing those numbers. Just a few weeks ago, more than 2,200 students in Seattle public schools lacked up-to-date vaccine records, the Seattle Times reports. By Tuesday afternoon, the number was down to about 800. By late afternoon Wednesday, it was only 476 students, according to the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau.

"In September, there were thousands of families that we had to notify about the new state law to provide updated immunization records or to be excluded from school," Juneau said at a board meeting Wednesday. "Because of the hard work of our school nurses and health services team and school staff, we only had to exclude less than 1% of our students today, and that is, I think, a really good success story. That is fewer than 500 students."

Parents seemed to support the school district's efforts in ensuring everyone complied with the law, notifying families via email, snail mail and sending letters home for weeks to make sure families were aware.

"We're all in this together," parent Grant Rhys-Jones told KIRO. "If some people aren't pulling their weight, it's not good for the majority."

Another parent echoed a similar sentiment.

"Disease can be spread among kids — especially a bunch of kids together in the same place," Pon Voatsay told KOMO. "I’m concerned about my kids’ well-being, so whatever is needed I will get it."