Vaccine production
Yellow Fever vaccine manufacturing facility Val de Reuil Sanofi Pasteur site, France, June 2013 Copyright Sanofi Pasteur / Patrick Boulen

A pro­vi­sion in state law that allows par­ents of school­child­ren to opt their kids out of receiv­ing a vac­ci­na­tion for measles, mumps, and rubel­la (the MMR dis­eases) on so-called per­son­al or philo­soph­i­cal grounds may soon be abolished.

Tonight, after a long floor debate, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed Engrossed House Bill 1638, prime spon­sored by Repub­li­can Paul Har­ris. The bill amends RCW 28A.210.080 and 28A.210.090 to allow school­child­ren and kids in day­care to be exempt­ed from the MMR vac­cine for med­ical or reli­gious rea­sons only.

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
EHB 1638
Vac­cine pre­ventable diseases
Final Passage

Yeas: 57; Nays: 40; Excused: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Bergquist, Callan, Chap­man, Cody, Davis, Doglio, Dolan, Dye, Enten­man, Fey, Fitzgib­bon, Frame, Good­man, Gregerson, Hansen, Har­ris, Hud­gins, Jink­ins, Kil­duff, Klo­ba, Leav­itt, Lekanoff, Lovick, Macri, Mead, Mor­gan, Mor­ris, Orms­by, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Pel­lic­ciot­ti, Peter­son, Pet­ti­grew, Pol­let, Ramos, Reeves, Ric­cel­li, Robin­son, Ryu, San­tos, Sells, Senn, Shew­make, Slat­ter, Springer, Stan­ford, Stokes­bary, Stonier, Sul­li­van, Tar­leton, Thai, Tharinger, Valdez, Walen, Wylie, Chopp

Vot­ing Nay: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Barkis, Blake, Boehnke, Caldier, Cham­bers, Chan­dler, Cor­ry, DeBolt, Dent, Dufault, Eslick, Gildon, Goehn­er, Gra­ham, Grif­fey, Hoff, Irwin, Jenkin, Kir­by, Klip­pert, Kraft, Kretz, MacEwen, May­cum­ber, McCaslin, Mos­bruck­er, Orcutt, Rude, Schmick, Shea, Smith, Steele, Suther­land, Van Wer­ven, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybar­ra, Young

Excused: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Appleton

Three Repub­li­cans vot­ed for the leg­is­la­tion: Mary Dye, Paul Har­ris, and Drew Stokes­bary. Two Democ­rats vot­ed against it: Bri­an Blake and Steve Kir­by. One Demo­c­rat did not par­tic­i­pate in the vote (Sher­ry Appleton).

A recent measles out­break in Clark Coun­ty served as the impe­tus for the bill; Clark Coun­ty is Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Har­ris’ home juris­dic­tion. The out­break prompt­ed Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to declare a state of emer­gency ear­li­er this year.

Accord­ing to PBS, Clark Coun­ty has one of the low­est vac­ci­na­tion rates any­where: sev­en­ty-eight per­cent, which isn’t high enough to pro­vide effec­tive herd immu­ni­ty.

“Since Jan­u­ary 1st [2019], Pub­lic Health has iden­ti­fied sev­en­ty con­firmed cas­es and is cur­rent­ly inves­ti­gat­ing two sus­pect cas­es,” Clark Coun­ty’s offi­cial online sum­ma­ry of the inves­ti­ga­tion states. “Pub­lic Health has iden­ti­fied one new loca­tion where peo­ple may have been exposed to measles.”

“The measles vac­cine isn’t per­fect, but one dose is nine­ty-three per­cent effec­tive at pre­vent­ing ill­ness,” reads an expla­na­tion from Dr. Alan Mel­nick, Clark Coun­ty’s health offi­cer and Pub­lic Health direc­tor. “The rec­om­mend­ed two dos­es of the measles vac­cine pro­vide even greater pro­tec­tion – nine­ty-sev­en percent.”

In approv­ing HB 1638, the Wash­ing­ton State House is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Left Coast’s largest state, Cal­i­for­nia, which has also strug­gled with the issue.

Fol­low­ing a big measles out­break at Dis­ney­land, Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers vot­ed in 2015 to abol­ish the per­son­al exemp­tion for vac­cines in the Gold­en State.

“Before the change, only nine­ty per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia chil­dren were vac­ci­nat­ed, which is below the nine­ty-four per­cent thresh­old pub­lic health experts say is need­ed to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty immu­ni­ty to measles. Now, accord­ing to a study released last month, nine­ty-five per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia chil­dren are vac­ci­nat­ed,” Gov­ern­ing Mag­a­zine not­ed in a Decem­ber 2018 report pre­scient­ly titled “ ‘Ripe for an Out­break’: Vac­cine Exemp­tions Are on the Rise” and writ­ten by Mat­tie Quinn.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Har­ris has char­ac­ter­ized EHB 1638 as “a small step” because it only ends the personal/philosophical exemp­tion for the MMR vaccine.

EHB 1638 now heads to the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate for fur­ther consideration.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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4 replies on “Washington State House passes bill ending the personal exemption for MMR vaccine”

  1. Was a bill passed in Neva­da to take away a reli­gious belief exemp­tion? And if so how can that be upheld with­out vio­lat­ing my first amend­ment right? There are abort­ed fetal tis­sues used in the mak­ing of the MMR and I do not approve of abor­tion, nor do I approve of that being inject­ed into my children.

    1. No, Misty — Neva­da still has a reli­gious exemp­tion for vac­ci­na­tions. See Neva­da Rev. Stat. § 392.435, 437, 439. There is a guide to exemp­tions by state on the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of State Leg­is­la­tures’ web­site.

      It is impor­tant to note that the measles, mumps, and rubel­la vac­cine does not con­tain any abort­ed fetal tis­sue.

      Accord­ing to the Cen­ters For Dis­ease Con­trol and Prevention:

      “The rubel­la vac­cine virus is cul­tured in human cell-line cul­tures, and some of these cell lines orig­i­nat­ed from abort­ed fetal tis­sue, obtained from legal abor­tions in the 1960’s. No new fetal tis­sue is need­ed to pro­duce cell lines to make these vac­cines, now or in the future. Fetal tis­sue is not used to pro­duce vac­cines; cell lines gen­er­at­ed from a sin­gle fetal tis­sue source are used; vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers obtain human cell lines from FDA-cer­ti­fied cell banks. After pro­cess­ing, very lit­tle, if any, of that tis­sue, remains in the vaccine.”

      “For those who are still uncom­fort­able with this rev­e­la­tion, it might be help­ful to know that the Vat­i­can has actu­al­ly tak­en a stand on the issue,” writes Lisa Jo Rudy. “The Vat­i­can’s Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my for Life issued a state­ment in 2005 say­ing that, though it is wrong to make vac­cines using abort­ed fetal tis­sue, and that such prac­tices should no longer be employed, it is accept­able to use vac­cines devel­oped from abor­tions that were car­ried out decades ago, because immu­niza­tions play a vital role in pro­tect­ing life by pre­vent­ing ill­ness and death.”
      The Vat­i­can’s state­ment is avail­able for read­ing here.

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