Lawmakers consider removing some exemptions for vaccines

A measles outbreak has shined new light on vaccines. - KRISTEN BLACK PHOTO
Kristen Black photo
A measles outbreak has shined new light on vaccines.

As a measles outbreak has spread in southwest Washington, some in the state Legislature hope to pass a bill that would no longer allow families to exempt children from a vaccine because of a philosophical or personal reason.

Currently, Washington allows families to exempt children from vaccines — including the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — for either a medical, religious, personal or philosophical reason. Statewide, personal reasons account for a higher percentage of exemptions than any other, with about 3.7 percent of kids using that reason to not receive a vaccine. In Spokane, 5.9 percent of K-12 students had a exemption for personal reasons in 2017-18, according to the state Department of Health.

House Bill 1638 would eliminate that exemption.

"This is an issue that is front and center in our community right now. We have experienced many years without knowing or experiencing what measles can do," says Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), who co-sponsored the bill. "And now we're starting to see the negative impacts of too many people who are not immunized."

As of press time, there were 54 confirmed measles cases in Washington, all but one residing in Clark County, home to Vancouver. A majority of those cases are for kids who are 10 or younger.

State officials have urged the public to get immunizations in order to prevent the spreading of measles. Measles is extremely contagious and can be dangerous for young children. That's why, Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) says he, too, sponsored the bill eliminating the personal exemption.

"I didn't drop this bill without giving it some thought," Harris says.