State House committee moves forward on measles vaccine bill

State House committee moves forward on measles vaccine bill

A bill in the Washington State Legislature that would remove a parent’s ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption for children to forgo the measles vaccine, was approved by the House Health Care and Wellness committee Friday.

The committee voted 10-5 in favor of the bill, with nine Democrats and Republican Rep. Paul Harris supporting it. Harris is the bill’s primary sponsor.

"The vast majority of agree — I'm hearing a lot of course from a screaming minority that's very concerned about it, as I am very concerned," Rep. Harris said in a recent interview on NPR. "But I'm very concerned about those kids who have compromised immune systems."

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“There’s a lot of freedom talk in this issue, and who has more freedom? I got to say, I’m siding on the side of the student who really doesn’t have a choice in this,” he added.

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This bill comes as there are now 62 confirmed measles cases in Washington state, 61 of which are in Clark County. A large majority of these cases have been found in unvaccinated children, leading to an emergency declaration from Gov. Jay Inslee in January.

As of now, state law allows for three types of exemptions for school-aged children to not receive vaccinations: Religious, medical, and personal/philosophical. HR-1638 would eliminate the personal and philosophical exemption for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, just over 77 percent of Washington state kindergartners were unvaccinated because of personal exemptions in 2017.

Including Washington, there are 18 states that currently allow personal exemptions for immunizations. Just three — California, West Virginia, and Mississippi — do not allow any exemptions that are not for specific health reasons.

Among the opposition to the bill on the Health Care and Wellness Committee was Republican Rep. Joe Schmick.

"I believe that decisions like this are best left up to parents and their doctors," he said in a recent news release. "Healthcare freedoms and parental rights are two issues we should not take lightly."

HR-1638 will next move to the floor of the state House for a full vote, then the state Senate, and eventually the governor’s desk to be signed should it get it get that far.