Seattle Schoolchildren Told to Get Vaccinated or Don't Return to Class in 2020 as America Deals with Measles Crisis

As the America grapples with the highest number of measles cases reported since 1992, Seattle schoolchildren are being told to get vaccinated—or don't bother returning to class in 2020.

Washington is among a number of states to introduce tougher vaccine laws in the wake of a wave of measles outbreaks in an attempt to tackle the public health crisis.

Seattle Public Schools published student vaccination requirements last week, announcing student records have to reflect the updated immunization status by January 8, 2020.

If they fail to do so, schoolchildren will not be allowed to attend school. Instead, they will be declared absent until the school nurse is provided with all the necessary information.

"Student who are out of compliance with the Washington state immunization law on Wednesday, January 8, will be excluded from attending school," said Seattle Public Schools. "Once immunization compliance is achieved, they may return to school."

Students excluded from school on these grounds will have missed days written down as "unexcused absences." Schools can change these absences to "excused"—but only after immunization is completed and the student is back at school.

"Families of students whose records are not up to date or are missing information will be notified via email, postal mail, and a letter home from your child's school," said Seattle Public Schools.

The city is offering free immunization clinics for Seattle Public School students on Monday, December 30, 2019 and ​January 3, 2020. A third was held on Friday, December 27, 2019.

The news follows changes to Washington state's MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine requirements, which were amended in May so that children can not be exempted on the basis of their family's religious or philosophical beliefs.

The bill affecting public and private schools as well as day-care facilities, came into force in July 28, 2019. To attend school in Washington, children must be fully vaccinated. If not, they must be in the process of having their immunizations completed or have a signed Certificate of Exemption to attend school.

MMR vaccine
Students in Seattle are being told to get their immunizations if they want to attend school in the new year. Samara Heisz/iStock

Washington state has seen two outbreaks of measles in the past year—one from January to May and a second in August. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the outbreaks have a combined tally of 87 cases, the highest number reported in the state for any one year since 1990.

Nationwide, there were 1,276 cases of measles confirmed across 31 states between January 1 and December 5, 2019, which is more than triple the number of cases reported in 2018 (375).

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 124 people were hospitalized and 61 suffered complications such as pneumonia.

"As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children," the CDC website warns. "Nearly 1 to 3 of every 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurologic complications.

"About 1 child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability."

States such as New York, California, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine have similarly responded to the spike in measles cases by introducing stricter rules around vaccine exemptions in recent years, banning exemptions based on either religious and philosophical grounds.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the rising trend in measles-related deaths in recent years.

Measles Deaths Statista
Estimated global deaths from measles from 2010 to 2018. Statista