State cuts free immunizations

August 18, 2009

By Laura Geggel

Lauren Anderson (right) inoculates her daughter Anna Zornes in 2006 with the vaccine at Virginia Mason's Issaquah Pediatrics and Adolescent Clinic as a protection against HPV, which infects about 6.2 million sexually active Americans sometime during their lifetime. File

Lauren Anderson (right) inoculates her daughter Anna Zornes in 2006 with the vaccine at Virginia Mason's Issaquah Pediatrics and Adolescent Clinic as a protection against HPV, which infects about 6.2 million sexually active Americans sometime during their lifetime. File

Parents, get your wallets and insurance cards out: Washington state is scaling back on free vaccinations for minors.

In July, Washington stopped using state funds to provide free vaccines for the human papillomavirus. Come May 2010, the state will stop subsidizing all childhood vaccinations, including measles, mumps and rubella, chickenpox, polio, hepatitis B and the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.

By cutting its Universal Vaccine Program, the state will save $48.5 million over the next two years.

The program began in 1990, when the state began providing free vaccinations for children under 19. In 1994, the federal government provided additional funds through the Vaccines for Children program.The federal program will continue to provide Washington with immunization funds for minors, allotting the state $160 million for the next two years. Until the program is phased out in May, the state will spend another $20 million.

The state will use federal money to continue providing immunizations for low-income children. Children under 19 who are enrolled in the state Medicaid program, have no insurance, are underinsured or are American Indians or Alaska Natives can qualify for publicly purchased immunizations. Also included in the program are children enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Basic Health or other in free or low-cost state health plans.

Many parents were unaware of the program, because it operated behind the scenes, said Michele Roberts, health promotion and communication manager at the state’s Department of Health. Now, families with private insurance should make sure their policy covers childhood immunizations.

“Everybody should expect to be asked, ‘Do you have private insurance that covers vaccines?’” Roberts said.

Families with private insurance plans might see higher premiums, co-pays or out-of-pocket costs. For example, the human papillomavirus vaccine costs about $130 for one dose, and the vaccine requires three.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re at where we’re at, is the basic series of childhood vaccines used to be fairly inexpensive, around $15 per dose,” Roberts said. “Recently, they’ve become very expensive at $80 to $120 per dose.”

Families whose children are not covered by insurance and who cannot afford to pay can contact the Department of Social and Health Services or another healthcare authority. A good resource is the Family Health Hotline, a statewide information line that can help people learn whether they qualify for children’s health insurance. Call 800-322-2588 toll-free.

Another resource is, a Web site run by WithinReach, a nonprofit organization helping Washington state families apply for health and food programs and locate resources in their communities.

Sara Niegowski, spokeswoman for the Issaquah School District, said because students are still required to receive specific immunizations, district officials would try to help families in need find proper coverage.

“Our bigger concern would be families that have lost their health insurance, because family members have lost their jobs and no longer have coverage. As a school district, all we can do here is provide families with information about the resources we know that may be available to them and we will continue to do this,” Niegowski said. “We still have to comply with the requirements in the WAC (Washington Administrative Code) or have a signed parent waiver for the immunizations.”

One thing is certain — vaccinating children can help stop the spreading of disease.

“Vaccinating children is one of the best things parents can do to keep their children healthy,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a press release. “The key to disease prevention is to make sure children have continued access to vaccines — that’s our goal as we work through this change with our partners.”


what you need to know

State law requires a variety of immunizations for students prior to them entering school and while they are in the school system.

Students must be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, poliomyelitis, varicella (chickenpox) measles, rubella, mumps and hepatitis B.

Immunization schedule:

Hepatitis B: Must have had three shots on or after 6 months of age.

Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis: Kindergarten requirement is four shots by age 4; first- though fifth-grade and eighth- through 12th-grade requirements are three shots after age 4.

Diptheria and tetanus: Sixth- and seventh-grade requirements are students need to get another immunization at age 11 or when it has been five years since their last one.

Polio: Students must have had at least three doses if the last shot was given after age 4. However, four doses is acceptable for students who had their last dose before age 4.

Measles, mumps and rubella: Two shots, with the first having been on or after age 1 and the second at least one month after the first.

Varicella (chickenpox): Your child must be at least 1 to get his or her first shot. The second shot is given between ages 4 and 6.

A seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for all children six months through 18 years.

Parents should also think about vaccinating their children against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, which is expected to make a resurgence this fall. A vaccine may become available locally as early as October and will be distributed through health care providers. That vaccine will be a recommendation for children but not a requirement.

Prior to entering school each year, parents or guardians must present a completed certificate of immunization status form.

Your child’s immunization status form must indicate one of the following:

Full immunization has been completed.

Your child is exempt from all vaccine immunizations.

Your child has a combination of required immunizations and exemptions.

Your child has a conditional status that he or she has begun having or is continuing a schedule of immunizations.

The health agency or doctor you are receiving the immunizations from will indicate this on the card for you.

Exemptions from one or more vaccines can be granted for religious or personal reasons upon written request from a child’s parent or guardian. Exemptions may also be granted for medical reasons at the request and with the signature of a physician.

However, if an outbreak occurs at school, your child may be excluded from school by order of the health department during the outbreak if it is a disease he or she has not been immunized against.

Public clinic

Evergreen Healthcare Access Program (Seattle King County Public Health) Lake Washington Technical College Health, Room W101, 11605 132nd Ave. N.E., Kirkland. Cost is $10 per child, or free for families with medical coupons or those without medical insurance. Call 739-8400.

Local clinics

Medical Center of Issaquah, 450 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Suite 107, 391-0705

Swedish Hospital Issaquah, 2005 N.W. Sammamish Road, 394-0600

Virginia Mason at Issaquah, 100 N.E. Gilman Blvd., 557-8000

Other medical needs

If your child has other special medical requirements, such as prescription medication he or she is required to take during school, go to health and click on “Health forms and policies.”

Reach Reporter Laura Geggel at or 392-6434, ext. 221. Comment on this story at

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One Response to “State cuts free immunizations”

  1. judy cash on September 1st, 2009 11:51 am

    Thanks for the good article Laura. So will you be monitoring how this affects children who could fall through the cracks?
    best, Judy

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