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Washington Lawmakers Weigh Vaccine Bill Amid Outbreak

Amid a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 50 people in the Pacific Northwest, Washington lawmakers heard testimony Friday on a bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption.

Posted: Feb 8, 2019 4:15 PM
Updated: Feb 25, 2019 10:35 AM

By RACHEL LA CORTE , Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Amid a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 50 people in the Pacific Northwest, Washington lawmakers heard testimony Friday on a bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption to opt their school-age children out of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Hundreds of people opposed to the measure lined up more than an hour before the start of the hearing before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, many wearing stickers with the bill number, HB 1638, within a crossed out circle.

The bill comes as health officials have reported at least 52 known cases in Washington state and four in Oregon. Most of the Washington cases are concentrated in Clark County, just north of Portland, Oregon. The measure is sponsored by a lawmaker from that region, Republican Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver, and has the support of the state medical association and Gov. Jay Inslee. Inslee declared a state of emergency last month.

Harris said people in his area are "concerned about our community, its immunity and the community safety."

The measure does allow proof of disease immunity through laboratory evidence or history of disease to substitute for immunization.

Currently, the state allows school-vaccination exemptions for children at public or private schools or licensed day-care centers based on medical, religious and personal or philosophical beliefs. Unless an exemption is claimed, a child is required to be vaccinated against or show proof of acquired immunity of nearly a dozen diseases — including polio, whooping cough and mumps — before they can attend school or a child care center.

John Wiesman, the secretary of the state Department of Health, said the effort to limit exemptions is "about safe schools and protecting vulnerable children."

Wiesman told the panel that compared to other outbreaks in the state in the past decade, "the outbreak we are dealing with right now is larger and infecting people faster than recent history."

Opponents testifying against the bill included environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who questioned safety standards around vaccines.

Susie Corgan, with Informed Choice Washington, said after the hearing that parents who are worried about their children having adverse reactions to vaccines have a right to philosophical exemptions.

"Where there is risk, there must be choice, and there is risk with this vaccine as there is with any other medical procedure," she said.

Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions, according to the state Department of Health. Of those, 3.7 percent of the exemptions are personal, with the remainder being religious exemptions. In Clark County, 6.7 percent of kindergartners had a non-medical exemption for the 2017-18 school year, according to health officials.

Washington is among 17 states, including Oregon, that allow some type of non-medical exemption for vaccines for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Legislation introduced in Washington state in 2015 that would have removed the personal or philosophical belief allowance for an exemption to childhood vaccines never made it to the House floor for a vote after it faced stiff opposition.

Both the WSMA and Inslee also support a broader bill that was introduced in the Senate earlier this week. That measure, which has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would not allow personal or philosophical exemptions to be granted for any required school vaccinations.

California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015, after a measles outbreak at Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada. Vermont also abandoned its personal exemption in 2015.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31503

Reported Deaths: 538
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah6938136
Marion452292
Washington436959
Umatilla292841
Clackamas231461
Malheur157525
Jackson10914
Lane105916
Deschutes78912
Yamhill74514
Jefferson5168
Polk51115
Morrow4906
Linn48013
Lincoln47513
Union4352
Benton2886
Klamath2772
Wasco2733
Hood River2480
Douglas2213
Josephine1942
Columbia1551
Coos1470
Clatsop1270
Baker912
Crook611
Tillamook510
Curry310
Lake280
Wallowa281
Sherman180
Harney120
Gilliam80
Grant80
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 796436

Reported Deaths: 15291
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2633336423
Riverside576951173
San Bernardino53121908
Orange525381176
San Diego45425767
Kern31647357
Fresno27944362
Sacramento21800393
Alameda20839395
Santa Clara20648300
San Joaquin20060434
Stanislaus16425342
Contra Costa16156202
Tulare15782257
Ventura12507146
Imperial11658317
San Francisco1090199
San Mateo9664144
Monterey964570
Santa Barbara8952111
Merced8803140
Kings754477
Sonoma7225120
Marin6620114
Solano623260
Madera442465
Placer352343
San Luis Obispo345327
Butte277640
Yolo277355
Santa Cruz22838
Sutter168610
Napa165213
San Benito131411
Yuba11337
El Dorado10784
Mendocino88718
Shasta75114
Lassen7360
Glenn5683
Tehama5294
Nevada5256
Colusa5226
Lake51611
Humboldt4906
Calaveras31414
Amador28716
Tuolumne2264
Inyo18714
Mono1652
Siskiyou1630
Del Norte1381
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc250
Trinity150
Sierra60
Alpine20
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