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Washington auditor finds some schools are failing to follow state vaccination laws

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Adrian Florez
/
KNKX

The measles outbreak in Southwest Washington earlier this year showed the importance of making sure children are vaccinated. But the state auditor's office says some schools are failing to report immunization data.

Schools are supposed to submit immunization data to the state Department of Health every year. But a new performance audit finds questionable reporting. In the 2017-18 school year, schools in 29 districts did not report immunization data or they said they had no kindergarten enrollment when data from the state superintendent’s office showed the majority did have kindergarteners enrolled.

Olha Bilobran, senior performance auditor with the state, said it poses a public health risk if schools do not have vaccination records for their students.

“Because then we do not know who has immunity against certain diseases and that becomes really important when we have an outbreak,” she said.

School boards and district administrators are responsible for making sure schools comply. The audit report said lawmakers might consider creating a statewide accountability system to enforce the rules, which require that children be excluded from school if their families haven’t submitted vaccination records, blood test records, a certificate of exemption or a plan to get vaccinated.

Additionally, incomplete reporting to the Department of Health makes it hard to gauge whether the state is making progress toward its goal of a 95 percent immunization rate. That’s a threshold chosen as a way to ensure the state reaches what’s known as “herd immunity.”

Bilobran said herd immunity is important for protecting newborn babies and other people.

“Those people who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons – they are protected,” she said. “For example, those can be pregnant women or children with immune diseases who cannot be given vaccines.”

The performance audit examined some school districts that have high percentages of students out of compliance with immunization laws. Bilobran said they should increase communication with families about vaccination requirements and make sure they offer information in multiple languages.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.