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Lack of vaccines bars kids from school

Isaiah Barnes almost didn't get to be in his third-grade class Wednesday morning.

What stood between him and a brief exclusion from Mae Richardson Elementary School was a needle and band-aid: the dose of the Hepatitis A vaccine he was missing among Oregon's required immunizations for K-12 students.

"He's my kid that would want to go to school," said his father, Hamilton Barnes. "My other kids would be like, 'wait if I don't get the shot, I don't get to go to school? OK, then I'm not interested.'"

School Exclusion Day, Feb. 21, is the deadline for parents and legal guardians to either fully vaccinate their children or seek exemptions.

"It's not something I knew we had to have," said Mike Beene, who received a letter of notice a couple of weeks back from Hedrick Middle School that his daughter Hannah was missing a shot.

He, like Hamilton Barnes, brought his child to Jackson County Health and Human Services' walk-in immunization clinic to get an updated shot so she could remain in school.

One shot of tdap later, and Hannah was ready to go back to class the next day. Though Hannah hates shots, "I believe kids should have them," Mike Beene said.

Stacey Gregg, clinic manager for Jackson County Public Health, said that most parents are like Beene and Barnes. They don't intentionally avoid vaccinations; keeping up-to-date on what shots their students need just gets away from them.

"Life gets busy, and so parents fall behind," she said.

Stacy de Assis Matthews, immunization school law coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority, said that’s why the state sends out letters of reminder at the beginning of February.

“Everyone is busy,” she said. “We want to make sure immunizations rise to the top of a parent’s priority list at least once a year.”

County health departments across the state sent out reminder letters if vaccinations were needed. They sent 24,725 letters in 2018 and 29,932 letters in 2017. Between 4,000 and 5,000 students were kept out of school for at least one day in both of those years.

Jackson County Public Health sent out 1,379 letters to parents or guardians this February, a slightly higher number than the 1,229 sent in 2018.

De Assis Matthews said the reminder this year is “especially relevant” due to a recent outbreak of measles in the Portland-Vancouver area that has affected 67 people at last count.

Jackson and Josephine counties scrape the bottom of Oregon counties in measles vaccination rates among K-12 students, OHA data show. They have the highest rates of nonmedical exemptions from the measles vaccine: 8.5 percent of students in Josephine County and 6.5 percent in Jackson County. In Jackson County, 89.4 percent of K-12 students are vaccinated against measles and 89.1 percent are in Josephine County.

Gregg said that part of her department’s work involves coordinating with local health care providers to keep vaccinations on parents’ radar when they bring their children in.

“We encourage providers to revisit that conversation every time that they see a kiddo,” she said.

The department also prepares in advance for an influx of people seeking immunizations after letters go out.

“The next two days, three days will be very busy for us,” she said.

You can find a full list of Oregon’s required vaccines at https://bit.ly/2PDX2iu.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Illustration by 123rf.com