Fewer parents are exempting their children from school vaccinations, something school and health officials said is the result of changes in state law.
About 4.5 percent of kindergartners for the 2011-12 school year had vaccination exemptions, according to information from the Washington Department of Health. That's a drop from 6 percent of kindergartners last school year and 6.2 percent in 2009-10.
Local school and health officials couldn't provide specific numbers on a drop in exemptions among their students, but they said they expect to see the exemption rate continuing to dip.
"The old exemption form made it too easy to opt out of vaccinations," Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District, said in an email.
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Health officials generally recommend children receive a slew of vaccinations, primarily in their early years.
Amy Person, district health officer with the Benton Franklin Health District, said school districts generally want students to be vaccinated for diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox before attending school.
However, some parents opt out of vaccinations because they either view them as detrimental to their child's health or reject them on religious grounds.
State law still allows parents to exempt their children for health or religious reasons. But a change implemented last year now requires parents to get a doctor to sign an exemption form and provide information to parents on the risks of not vaccinating.
It's that change that officials said has led to the drop in exemptions. Gina Begalka, a school nurse in the Richland School District, said she hasn't seen a big change in exemption rates but expected that to change in the coming years.
"Prior to this regulation, a parent could exempt for convenience," she said.
Person said increases in vaccination exemptions generally precede outbreaks. With recent local outbreaks of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, and outbreaks of measles and mumps in other parts of the country, it's important to maintain the "herd immunity" of communities.
"I think the fact the rate dropped shows how important education (about vaccinations) is," Person said.
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