By Bridget Vandeventer, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department
Tuesday afternoon, Governor Gregoire signed senate bill 5005, concerning immunization exemptions. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department advocated for this bill throughout the 2011 legislative session because of the tremendous impact immunizations have on public health, and the dangers associated with immunization exemptions.
There are strong data linking increased levels of exemptions with increased risk of outbreaks of vaccine preventable disease. One study showed that states with philosophical exemptions had 90 percent more cases of pertussis (whooping cough) than states with stricter rules.
A pilot project in a Pierce County school district in 2010 showed that many exemptions are provided from convenience rather than conviction. When vaccine records were reviewed it was found that about a third of the exemptions were being claimed for vaccinations children already had. Parents were claiming exemptions for convenience rather than actually checking records. Follow-up with calls to parents claiming exemptions found that many were willing to have their children come in for immunizations and few were adamantly opposed to vaccinating their children.
The Governor, the Senate and the House of Representatives wisely passed this bill, which should lead to higher rates of immunization, greater herd immunity and an overall healthier Pierce County.