The effects of last year's chickenpox outbreaks in the San Juan Islands affected more than just the children who caught the communicable disease. The $73,000 spent by the county Health Department rapidly wiped out the department's emergency fund. Money from the current expense fund had to be diverted to cover the cost of the public health response.
Programs such as the Women, Infant and Children Nutritional Program (WIC) Maternity Support, and Newborn Outreach Services were adversely impacted as county employees were busy staffing the 35 popup immunization clinics that were conducted. The caseload for WIC dropped. Since funding is tied to caseload this means future funding will be reduced meaning less service.
More than 150 students were excluded from class during the outbreak. Preschools and childcare centers were affected due to less tuition income when children were ill or not allowed to attend due to not being immunized. One infant care center was closed for months. The first immunization is done between ages 12-15 months old.
The two distinct outbreaks started with one case May 31, 2018. By the time it ended in January 2019, 41 children had been ill. Cases occurred on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and San Juan Islands. Between the lack of daycare and the need to care for their ill children, families lost income.
The percentage of kindergarteners with complete immunization records in San Juan County is 47 percent. The state average is 85 percent.
For children ages 19-35 months the rate of complete immunization records is 47.1 percent compared to the state average of 59.9 percent.
The fact that there were no physicians providing immunizations on Orcas Island last year meant the health department had to fill in the gap. Public Health staff conducted 35 popup immunization clinics during the eight months. The reasons the healthcare providers didn't provide the vaccines were - one didn't have a freezer/refrigerator to store the vaccines, the other's vaccine certification had expired.
The state legislature is considering bills that would eliminate the personal belief exemption for immunizations. The exemption allows student to attend school even though they are not immunized.
Information about HB 1638 - Promoting immunity against vaccine preventable diseases would prohibit an exemption from the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine due to a philosophical or personal objection.