Shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies such as pencils and backpacks aren't the only tasks parents should have on their to-do lists as the new academic year approaches.
It's also important to make sure students' immunizations are up to date, health officials said.
Kids are required to get several vaccinations for child care and preschool, to enter kindergarten and throughout their school careers to protect against illnesses from Hepatitis B to whooping cough.
Exemptions are allowed for religious or personal beliefs and medical conditions.
"The most important thing I can stress is come in before the first day of school to get your kids up to date on vaccines" and don't wait until the last moment, said Heather Hill, a public health nurse with the Benton-Franklin Health District.
The health district offers immunizations, and they also can be arranged through other health care providers.
In Washington, the recommended vaccines are free for kids, although there may be office visit and administration fees.
Those can be waived.
Last school year, about 83 percent of kindergartners in the state had all the required vaccinations to enter school -- a drop of about 2 percent over the year before, according to the state department of health. Hill said the Tri-City area's rates tend to mirror the state's.
Officials are looking into the reason for the decrease in the state figures, including whether there were reporting changes or an actual dip in the number of kids being immunized, the state health department said in a news release.
While the overall percentage decreased, the rate of kindergartners exempted from vaccinations remained at 4.6 percent, the state health department reported.
Hill acknowledged that some parents have concerns about the safety of vaccinations.
While there can be some -- generally mild -- side effects, such as pain at the injection site and fever, "science is very clear -- and it is good science -- that vaccines are safe," she said.
"We do have vaccine-preventable diseases that are circulating in the U.S. and our community. That's why it's so important to make sure your child is protected," she said.
For details on required immunizations, go to www.doh.wa.gov/youandyourfamily/immunization.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald