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:
Vaccine preventable diseases
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.
“Since January 1st , 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.