OLYMPIA — A state House committee passed a bill Friday to ban the personal or philosophical exemption for the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella for school-age children amid a measles outbreak centered in Clark County.
House Bill 1638 moved through the Health Care and Wellness Committee on a primarily party-line vote despite vocal opposition from critics who say the injections can cause harm that outweighs the benefits associated with avoiding certain preventable diseases.
All nine Democrats voted in favor, while the bill’s prime sponsor — Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver, Clark County — was the only Republican on the committee to support it.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, the top Republican on the committee, argued that while he thinks every child should be vaccinated, parents should also retain the right to choose.
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The measure received a packed public hearing last Friday, which included testimony in opposition to the proposal from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others doubting the safety of vaccines.
The legislation now moves to the House Rules Committee, where Harris, who serves on the committee, expects it to move quickly and receive a vote from the full chamber.
“I’m confident we can do something to make sure that we are keeping our communities safe,” said Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who helped lead the charge for the bill with Harris.
The measles outbreak in Washington, which spawned a state of emergency declaration from Gov. Jay Inslee, appears to have slowed, with 54 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health. There has been just one new case of the viral disease in the past seven days, while another person previously considered to have measles was actually experiencing a benign vaccine rash, so that case has been removed from the total, according to Clark County Public Health. There are two other suspected cases in the southwest Washington county.
While the nonmedical exemption rate for kindergarten enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year was approximately 2 percent nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington had an exemption rate on philosophical, personal or religious grounds of 4 percent. By comparison, Clark County, where the vast majority of this year’s measles cases are located, had a 6.7 percent exemption rate, according to state health-department data.
Washington is among 17 states to allow some type of philosophical exemption for the vaccine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Harris said last week that he also hopes to tighten the exemption for those who want to opt out based on their religion, while a bill proposed in the state Senate, scheduled for a Wednesday public hearing in the Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care, would ban the personal or philosophical exemption for all vaccines required for school, not just MMR.