Chickenpox outbreak hits Vancouver elementary

Walnut Grove has a 10% rate of unvaccinated students

Walnut Grove Elementary in Vancouver, as seen on their website June 8, 2017
Walnut Grove Elementary in Vancouver, as seen on their website June 8, 2017

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — At least 9 people have contracted chickenpox at Walnut Grove Elementary in Vancouver, prompting the Clark County Health Department to work closely with the school to stop it from spreading.

Health officials told KOIN 6 News students began getting sick in late April and the most recent case was May 31. Now, some students aren’t being allowed to go to school because they haven’t been vaccinated.

About the chickenpox
About the chickenpox vaccine
Letter to parents

On June 1, 35 students and 10 staff were excluded from the school. That number on June 6 was now down to 24 (19 students, 5 staff) because they’ve either now been vaccinated or provided the documentation they already received it. according to the health department.

Those still excluded aren’t allowed to come to school for 21 days from the onset of the last known case. That’s the incubation period — if you’re exposed to chickenpox you can develop the infection between 10 and 21 days after the exposure. You can even be contagious during some of that time even before you get the blistering rash.

Dr. Alan Melnick, the Clark County Public Health Director, said he knows parents are concerned their children are being excluded for 21 days.

“We’re telling parents if you get your children vaccinated, even their first shot, you can go back to school.” he said.

Washington Department of Health mandated all students at public and private high schools must be vaccinated for chickenpox beginning for the 2016-17 school year.

The school gets out for the summer on June 21.

“Walnut Grove had a fairly high, what we call, exemption rate that was over 10% of kids in the school were unvaccinated,” the doctor said. “Which means there’s an opportunity of once the virus gets into the school for it to easily spread.”

Most people who get chickenpox get better. However doctors say for some, like pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, there can be deadly complications.

“One of the things I tell people about is don’t only vaccinate your kids to protect your kids, vaccinate your kids to protect anyone else who might be around them,” Melnick said.