Jefferson County third lowest rate for school-aged children vaccinations in state, while West End highest on Peninsula

PORT ANGELES — Jefferson County had the third lowest vaccination rate for school-age children in the state while Clallam County rates were just above the state average in 2018, according to the state Department of Health.

Last year, schools in Jefferson County reported a 75.5 percent vaccination rate, compared to Clallam county’s vaccination rate of 89.7 percent. The state average was 88.6 percent.

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, said that since the measles outbreak in Clark County, which had 63 confirmed cases as of Wednesday afternoon, a sharp bump has been seen in vaccinations in East Jefferson County.

“We’ve been seeing a definite increase in parents bringing their kids in for vaccinations and getting them caught up,” Locke said. “That mostly has to do with parents making an intelligent choice, realizing that not only is this real, it’s here and in Washington state.”

No measles cases have been reported in Clallam or Jefferson counties.

Olympic Medical Center spokesperson Bobby Beeman said the Port Angeles hospital’s primary care clinics and children’s clinic all have an adequate amount of doses if they need to ramp up vaccination for measles.

In an effort to increase vaccination rates, a team from Jefferson Healthcare hospital went to the Brinnon school and vaccinated children there, said spokesperson Amy Yaley.

Jefferson Healthcare also conducted a clinic providing flu vaccines at the Port Townsend Paper Co. and will be providing child vaccines in South County. Primary care clinics also are encouraging patients to stay up to date on their vaccinations.

Anyone who suspects he or she has measles should call ahead before seeing a medical provider to lower the chances of exposing others.

Locke said Jefferson County has the highest rate of exemptions across the state, at 13.5 percent. He believes the majority of those exemptions are by parents who believe vaccines are harmful or who believe the risk of infection is so low that they don’t need to get their children vaccinated.

He said that though the measles outbreak in Clark County appears to now be under control, the low vaccination rates for school-aged children in Jefferson County leave people at risk.

Locke said it’s an issue that health providers have been concerned about for some time. The low vaccination rate has been considered to be among the top four health issues in East Jefferson County, he added.

“In Jefferson County we’ve known that school-age children have some of the lowest vaccination rates in Washington state for a long time,” he said. “Jefferson County has consistently been in the bottom three counties in terms of vaccination rates.”

Clallam County was just slightly above the state average. Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said the county could do better.

Room to grow

“We’ve got room to grow,” Unthank said. “We’re at risk of a measles outbreak in our community and the biggest message is that vaccination is entirely safe.

“We recommend it for nearly everyone unless they have a rare medical exemption.”

State Department of Health data shows that private schools on the North Olympic Peninsula have the lowest vaccination rates, especially those near Sequim and Port Townsend.

The school with the lowest vaccination rate was Sunfield Waldorf School in Port Hadlock with 41.2 percent of its 97 students fully vaccinated. Of those students, 49.5 percent had personal exemptions.

Sequim Community School, which hadn’t yet reported for last year, had a vaccination rate of 54 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

Swan School, Five Acre School and Mountain View Christian School had vaccination rates of 58.6 percent, 63.6 percent and 68.8 percent respectively.

Students enrolled in public schools in Sequim were less likely to be vaccinated than their peers at other public schools throughout the county, according to state data.

In 2016, Sequim Senior High had an 80 percent vaccination rate while Sequim Middle School was at 83.6 percent and Greywolf Elementary School was at 86.7 percent.

High rate on West End

Unthank said she knew children in the Sequim area were less likely to be vaccinated than others in Clallam County, but what surprised her was that schools on the West End had among the highest vaccination rates.

Clallam Bay School had a vaccination rate of 95.7 percent while Forks Elementary School had a vaccination rate of 93.1 percent.

“That was surprising to me,” she said. “It was a pleasant surprise to see the West End is exceptionally vaccinated.”

She said overall medical providers need to do more work to build trust that vaccines are safe. She emphasized there needs to be some direct outreach to people who are worried about vaccines and that those conversations need to be built on respect.

“There are a lot of people who care about the health of their kids and they’ve gotten some bad information,” Unthank said. “We need to help them get better information.

“We care about their kids too. We can do a better job on that one-on-one outreach with communities that lost trust in the health care system.”

Unthank said clinics also could be more proactive in making parents aware that vaccinations are due.

“No parent knows the vaccine schedule,” she said. “Taking that step away would help parents who are not hesitant to vaccinate.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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