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Washington State House passes bill ending the personal exemption for MMR vaccine

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.


  1. Nanette Smith
    Posted March 6th, 2019 at 12:30 PM | Permalink

    I’d like to be on NPI’s mailing list.

  2. Misty Watson
    Posted March 7th, 2019 at 6:19 PM | Permalink

    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.

  3. Andrew
    Posted March 7th, 2019 at 6:34 PM | Permalink

    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.

  4. Bernie Winton
    Posted March 8th, 2019 at 6:54 PM | Permalink

    The Senate has a better bill. Hope that one passes too.

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