Student vaccination data shoddy in Washington state schools, according to audit

click to enlarge KRISTEN BLACK PHOTO
Kristen Black photo

When it comes to student vaccinations, Washington schools seem to have trouble turning in their homework.

According to a state audit released recently, Washington does not know exactly how many students were vaccinated in the 2017-18 school year, because some schools failed to report immunization data at all. That's despite schools being required by law to send their immunization data to the Washington Department of Health (DOH).

"DOH's data shows not all schools in the state are following the law, nor are they collecting immunization records consistently," says a summary of the report by the State Auditor's Office. "For this reason, DOH does not know the state's true immunization rate."

As the state strives to have what's called "herd immunity," a goal of a 95 percent immunization rate to protect against disease, state law says schools must collect proof that students are immunized before the first day of school. If those records are unavailable, schools should not allow students to attend. But some schools are not reporting that proof, and principals are sometimes still allowing students to attend schools without receiving it.

The schools that chose not to exclude children did so because they "would rather educate students than exclude them," according to the audit. And they felt that they had a better chance to work with families to get vaccines if the kids were kept in school.

Auditors examined data from the 2017-18 school year, before the state Legislature eliminated the personal and philosophical exemptions parents could claim to avoid vaccinating their kids. The audit found that the schools that had higher rates were better at engaging and educating parents on the legal requirements related to immunization. At least 8 percent of all kindergartners did not meet immunization requirements, and about one in 10 school districts did not submit data to the state.

The report recommends that every school in Washington follow the state requirements.

"We recommend school authorities make parents aware of legal requirements related to vaccination documentation, all of the ways to comply and the consequences of noncompliance," the report says.

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.