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Washington House passes bill limiting vaccine exemptions

UPDATED: Wed., March 6, 2019

A health care worker prepares syringes, including a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, or MMR, for a child’s inoculations Feb. 13, 2019, at the International Community Health Services in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
A health care worker prepares syringes, including a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, or MMR, for a child’s inoculations Feb. 13, 2019, at the International Community Health Services in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Ryan Blake The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Despite Republican attempts to delay, the House passed a bill that would remove the personal and philosophical exemption parents can use to keep their children from receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Republicans introduced more than three dozen amendments that kept House members on the floor until close to midnight Tuesday, but ultimately withdrew most of them. Among the few that were approved was one to exempt a child who has an immediate family member with a documented adverse reaction or history of immune system problems.

The bill, which passed 57-40, ensures safety for everyone, especially those who have valid medical exemptions and cannot be vaccinated, said primary sponsor Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

A current measles outbreak originating in Clark County has 70 confirmed cases, according to the Clark County Public Health website. Only two had received the MMR vaccine. The cost of the outbreak has exceeded $1 million and tied up more than 200 medical workers, according to state Department of Health estimates.

Those resources are being wasted, said Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

“There is an unforeseen cost that this is causing in our state,” Stonier said of the outbreak. “But what we really value is the safety and the health of our children and our communities.”

Several Republican amendments to expand the exemption did pass, but many GOP lawmakers still opposed the bill.

It is an individual’s right to determine if they want to vaccinate their children, whether they have a religious objection or believe the vaccine is dangerous, said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.

“Where there is a risk and a constitutional obligation, there should absolutely – 100 percent – be a choice,” Shea said.

But Rep. Mary Dye, R-Garfield, argued that government is responsible for the safety of all people. One of three Republicans to support the bill, Dye urged others to consider their constitutional obligation to the common good.

Washington is one of 17 states that allows a nonmedical exemption.

In 2016, 88.4 percent of school-age children in Spokane County had received school district-required vaccines, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which has a broader bill that would eliminate personal and philosophical exemptions for all vaccines required for children, not just measles.

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