Seattle's Polio Vaccination Rate Is Lower Than Many Developing Countries

We were smarter in the '90s.
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 26:  A children's doctor injects a vaccine against measles, rubella, mumps and chicken pox to an infant on February 26, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The city of Berlin is facing an outbreak of measles that in recent weeks has led to over 700 cases and one confirmed death of a little boy who had not been vaccinated. Vaccination in Germany is not compulsory by law though the vast majority of parents have their children vaccinated.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 26: A children's doctor injects a vaccine against measles, rubella, mumps and chicken pox to an infant on February 26, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The city of Berlin is facing an outbreak of measles that in recent weeks has led to over 700 cases and one confirmed death of a little boy who had not been vaccinated. Vaccination in Germany is not compulsory by law though the vast majority of parents have their children vaccinated. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

While the United States' polio vaccination rate among 1-year-olds sits around 93 percent, Seattle's rate is in free fall: Currently, only 81.4 percent of kindergartens are vaccinated against the disease.

In fact, Seattle's polio immunization rate is lower than Zimbabwe's, Rwanda's, El Salvador's and Yemen's, according to the World Health Organization.

And despite a recent poll showing that parents' perceptions of vaccines are improving across the country, in Washington State, increased approval hasn't translated into action. Many parents, especially educated ones, are choosing not to vaccinate.

"If you look at a line on graph for all of Washington, for how many kids are fully vaccinated, it's dropping precipitously since 1998," Isolde Raftery, the online editor for Seattle's KUOW radio station, said on air this week.

Low vaccination rates are a problem because herd immunity, meaning the critical number of individuals who need to be vaccinated for the community at large to be protected, drops off when less than 95 percent of the population is immunized. When that number falls below 95 percent, babies who are too young to be vaccinated and people who can't safely receive vaccines, such as those with comprised immune systems, are at risk.

While 95 percent of Washington State kindergartens were vaccinated against polio in 1998, only 88 percent were immunized against the disease this year, according to KUOW.

Polio is not a trivial disease. It's highly infectious and can cause difficulty breathing, and in severe forms, paralysis and death. But because the last naturally occurring case of polio in the U.S. happened back in 1979, young parents, who don't remember the epidemic outbreaks of the disease in the 1940s and 50s, are more cavalier about vaccination than their parents or grandparents were, according to the CDC.

As for Washington State, new public health messaging or vaccinate mandates, like the one California's Gov. Jerry Brown signed in June, may be in order. "If the state wants people to be vaccinated, doctors and nurses need to come up with a better way of talking about immunization," Raftery said. "They set it up like a choice. And if it's a choice, then you're going to have people not choosing to get their kids immunized."

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