Gates Foundation Grant Supports Vax Northwest Partnership

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a $750,000 grant to the Group Health Foundation to support its Childhood Immunization Initiative, a statewide program aimed at raising immunization rates in Washington state.

"This partnership with the Gates Foundation brings impressive new resources to our work," said Laura Rehrmann, Foundation president. "Their investment will help us find evidence-based solutions to vaccine hesitancy that we can share across Washington state and beyond."

Back to: Childhood Immunization Initiative

The grant helps fund Vax Northwest — a public-private partnership created to ensure all children and communities in Washington state are protected from preventable, life-threatening diseases.

Vax Northwest

Vax Northwest — which includes Group Health, Seattle Children's, Washington State Department of Health, WithinReach, and Community Pediatric Foundation of Washington — was formed to provide parents with the information they need when making decisions about vaccinating their children.

Washington has the highest vaccine exemption rate in the country: about 6.2 percent of parents choose to opt out of kindergarten vaccination requirements for their children. Most states have rates lower than 3 percent.

"Most parents choose to protect their children from diseases such as measles, meningitis, polio, and whooping cough through vaccinations," said Ed Marcuse MD, associate medical director at Seattle Children's. "That choice also helps reduce the spread of preventable diseases; however, some parents are skipping or delaying routine vaccines, and that leaves our communities at risk for disease outbreaks."

Vaccines protect children who receive them from life-threatening diseases while also protecting the health of family, friends, and the community in which those children live. When vaccination rates are high, people who cannot be protected directly by vaccines — such as newborns and people with leukemia or immune system diseases — are protected because they are not exposed to the diseases.

When parents choose not to fully vaccinate their children, the health of children and communities are put at risk. In fact, there have been two tragic deaths of babies from whooping cough so far this year, a disease against which babies are too young to be fully vaccinated. In 2010, there were more than 600 cases of whooping cough in Washington, up from 291 in 2009.

"It might seem as though diseases like whooping cough or measles are not a threat because many of today's parents haven't experienced them," said David Grossman, MD, medical director for preventive care at Group Health. "We want to help parents get the information they need when making vaccination decisions for their children."

Vax Northwest will address this growing concern by developing tools for health care providers to work with parents as they make vaccination decisions for their children. Vax Northwest is also developing community outreach resources so that parents can share information in their own communities. The coalition plans to test and evaluate its approach so the lessons learned can be shared across Washington state and beyond.

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