VASHON ISLAND, Washington. >> Sarah Day is a street-level school nurse when it comes to the polarizing issue of vaccines on an idyllic island in Washington State, known for its rural beauty, counterculture lifestyle, and low vaccination coverage.
Ever since she began living on Vashon Island more than 20 years ago, the nurse has been campaigning for children to fire their shots against a massive contingent of anti-vaccine parents living in a close community of about 11,000 people are only accessible by ferry, a peaceful 20-minute drive from Seattle.
And it might work now, thanks to a "Perfect Storm" of the changes that are being felt on the island, Day said.
There was a significant increase in fully immunized children in the school district of Vashon Island. The number of nursery-school children who received the requisite government-prescribed vaccines rose 31% in the last six years, from 56% to nearly 74% in the 2017/18 school year, according to the King County Health Department. In the midst of the country's highest number of measles cases in 25 years, vaccine advocates hail the obvious change that challenges Vashon's reputation as a hotbed of highly educated, anti-establishment parents who choose not to turn their children into preventable and preventable possibly to vaccinate devastating diseases.
"We have been the poster boy for vaccine movement or vaccine delay for so long," said Day.
It attributes rising numbers of increasingly visible pro-vaccine information and expanded access to vaccines to media coverage of measles outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and New York this year.
The island town, with its deep roots in organic farming, has long attracted those who want to escape urban sprawl and other urbanizations. They are wary of putting chemicals into their bodies, whether in food or health care. Children run barefoot through untamed forests, and the families still grow fruit and vegetables without pesticides to consume in community homes.
There are also commuters, tourists, and million dollar vacation homes with sweeping views of Mount Rainier, as. Locals are also pushing science for vaccines to be safe.
Although the gains are remarkable, the Vashon School District still has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US. It is well below the target of 95 percent that reaches a majority of US schools around and is needed for herd immunity, which protects those who have not been vaccinated for medical reasons or because they are too young.
The majority of Vashon parents agree to some vaccines, especially the tetanus shot for their children playing outside on the wooded island. But many still stick to the official timetable of health officials' recommended shots. You can select some, but not all, and distribute them over a longer period of time.
Nicky Wilks, who grew up in Vashon and has three small children, said the change in attitudes meant that some pro-vaccine parents were excluded from rallies by children who may not have their shots while teens who are not vaccinated, mocking openly.
"This is the worst scenario if we create physical barriers in our community," Wilks said.
He said he does not oppose all vaccines, but disagrees that dozens of vaccinations are needed from birth, though health authorities insist. Wilks declined to say if his family is fully vaccinated.
Gator Lanphear says he is "very judgmental" towards parents who do not vaccinate. He said that not only does he immunize his six-year-old twin daughters, but he also instils in them the importance of making their shots heroic.
"They understand that what they have done benefits humankind. Yes, they got their ice cream for it, but they also kill polio, "said Lanphear.
The number of philosophical exceptions in Vashon has dropped dramatically, but there are still 11.6 percent of students whose families choose not to vaccinate. That's five times higher than the national median.
Nevertheless, Vashon's progress can not be ignored, as it is uncommon for vaccination to increase so much in a few short years if there is a deep-seated anti-vaccine vibe in the community. said William John Moss, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.
"It's a big climb, but they still have a long way to go," Moss said. "This is a lower vaccination rate than in many countries south of the Sahara."
Day, the school nurse, has worked closely with the new Neighborcare Health clinics, the island's largest medical provider. Together, they aggressively remind families of when vaccinations are due and advise them on their concerns, whether based on scientific evidence or not.
"The message really comes through. I feel the tide is really spinning on the island, "said Day.
A two-year high school health center has been particularly successful. It is partly funded by a County Scholarship, which provides free admission and services to low-income or uninsured students. About half of the 1,615 students in the school system are registered patients, and another 43 children who attend a private school or teach at home use the clinic.
Manager Stephanie Keller said the center has received an increase in phone calls from affected parents during a measles outbreak. Washington has hit at least 78 people, including seven reported near Vashon. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year, on May 17, 880 people in 24 states contracted measles.
The outbreak prompted Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency and sign a law that eliminates personal or philosophical problems exceptions to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine needed before attending a daycare or school. However, parents can still apply for a medical or religious exemption.
Some critics say the Vashon school system data are not representative of the population, as there are many families on the island that are disconnected from the power grid. Advocates of vaccines argue that this is an important benchmark, as the figures from a previous island-wide survey are consistent with data from public schools.
And there are other signs as well. The best services in the student health center are vaccinations, said Keller.
"That surprised us," said Keller. "You think Vashon is a hippie place where no one is vaccinating."