Amid measles outbreak, battle over vaccine choice to play out in Olympia

A House committee hearing is expected to overflow Friday morning as people flock to Olympia to weigh in on the controversial and often heated debate over whether parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccinations for personal or philosophical reasons.

>> RELATED: New bill would remove personal objection from measles vaccine

Students are required certain vaccinations to go to school, including MMR – or Measles, Mumps, Rubella – which requires two doses.

Washington is one of 18 states that allows personal exemptions for vaccines, in addition to medical and religious exemptions. Those personal exemptions have come under fire in the past. The growing measles outbreak once again has state lawmakers looking to make a change.

More than 50 cases of measles have been confirmed in Washington state, nearly every one of them in Clark County and in children or young people who have not been vaccinated.

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Enough, says Democratic State Rep. Monica Stonier, who is co-sponsoring a bill to put an end to the personal and philosophical exemption for the MMR vaccine.

“Measles is an incredibly fast-spreading disease and the vaccine is incredibly effective,” Stonier said. “For those who have legitimate medical reasons for not being able to be vaccinated or even legitimate religious reasons to not be vaccinated should still be able to enjoy living in a healthy community and currently that’s not happening.”

Her bill would require kids attending public school to get the MMR vaccine unless they have those legitimate medical or religious reasons. She says there also may be an amendment to tighten up the religious exemption, and also extending the vaccination requirement to people working in child care centers.

“Folks who are caring for children, especially infants before their first vaccination, parents should be able to count on those people to be vaccinated,” Stonier said.

But Washington mom Andrea – who asked we not to use her last name – doesn’t see it that way.

“It should be our choice to choose what goes into our children’s body when it comes to any sort of drug and to me, vaccines are considered a drug. When there’s risk to anything — just like drugs — there’s risk … I feel like there should be choice,” Andrea said.

And for Andrea this is personal.

“I did vaccinate my daughter, up until she was two. So she got the MMR when she was two and she had a severe reaction, right after she got a 104 fever, she stopped talking. It was almost like she was brain dead for four days; she wasn’t the same person at all. Thankfully, she recovered and was fine, but it would scare the life out of me to have to give her that second dose,” she said.

She won’t give her a daughter a second dose regardless of what happens with the bill. If it passes, Andrea says she will either home school or move to Idaho, which also allows personal exemptions.

Andrea says the doctor told her what happened to her daughter was a coincidence and had nothing to do with the vaccine, but she doesn’t buy it. She says she has done a ton of her own research and believes that research supports her position.

Stonier says she understands parents have safety concerns, but says research has largely debunked misinformation about the risks of vaccines.

“I understand the concerns that many are raising about wanting to make those decisions and having the freedom to make those decisions for their own children. The challenge here is that those people who are enjoying those freedoms currently are imposing on the rights of other children to live in a healthy community,” Stonier said.

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