High school students in Washington State who did not get the required two doses of the chickenpox vaccination before school started have 30 days to comply with the state rule or they won’t be allowed to attend school.
Per rules from the state Department of Health (DOH), students in the 9th thru 12th grade are required to have two vaccines against the chickenpox disease, also known as Varicella. A double vaccine was required for 7th and 8th grade students in 2015. Prior to that, only students from Kindergarten to 6th grade were required to have two doses.
The new requirement for high schoolers is being implemented in Washington State at the recommendation of the national Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Washington DOH said teens are at higher risk of severe complications if they get chickenpox.
“The new requirement helps protect these young people,” DOH said. “Washington State has required only students in kindergarten through 6th grade to have two doses of chickenpox vaccine, until now.
“The new requirement has school districts in the area working to bring all their high school students into compliance so they won’t be “excluded” from going to school. The rule also applies to students in alternative or Homelink programs, as well as homeschool students who are participating in sports through public school.
Students must either get two doses of the vaccine within 30 days of the first day of school or have written verification from a doctor that they have already had chickenpox. A blood test, or titer, can be done to show if the student’s blood carries the antibodies to the disease. Parents who do not want their child to have the vaccine are required to go to a doctor and be informed about the risks of passing up the vaccination before they are allowed to opt-out of the mandatory rule.
The Chewelah School District said 95 percent of its students are compliant with the regulation.
“Most parents have been very good about it and we are working with those who aren’t compliant yet,” said CSD School Nurse Kathy Wellman.
Wellman noted part of the delay for some students could also be attributed to a temporary shortage of the vaccine in local clinics.
The Colville School District said they have a slightly higher number of students who have yet to comply with the vaccination requirement, with roughly 35 percent of students in the 30-day compliance window.
Colville School District Nurse Becky Droter said the district has worked to educate parents and also provided a free immunization clinic at the end of the 2015 school year.
“We started educating parents about this requirement last year and offered the immunization clinic, but we are still a low-vaccination community for this disease. Some parents still encourage their kids to go to ‘pox parties,” Droter said, referencing the practice of encouraging children to catch the disease from each other so they will be immune in the future.
Vaccination free, but clinics may charge a fee
For students who still need the chickenpox vaccination in order to go to school, the best place to access it will be through their family doctor, according to Tri-County Health District Director Sandy Perkins.
Perkins said Tri-County Health discontinued administering vaccines in 2012 and now acts in an administrative capacity with the state Department of Health to make sure the vaccines are properly stored and given to patients at private clinics.
“Most county health departments have moved into a role with vaccines that is not as clinically focused,” said Perkins. “It was determined that most private health providers were able to do vaccinations so we have moved from administering vaccinations to licensing clinics to do them by keeping track of how much vaccine is out there, ensuring it is stored and administered properly.”
Perkins said the vaccine itself is free, but clinics may charge an administrative fee for the office visit. Local clinics that have the chickenpox, or varicella vaccine, include the Providence Northeast Washington Medical Group clinics, the Northeast Washington Health Clinic, as well as some private providers.
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff