A provision in state law that allows parents of schoolchildren to opt their kids out of receiving a vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) on so-called personal or philosophical grounds is one step closer to being abolished.
Tonight, after a long, contentious floor debate, the Washington State Senate passed Engrossed House Bill 1638, prime sponsored by Republican Paul Harris.
The bill amends state law 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
3rd Reading & Final Passage as Amended by the Senate
Yeas: 25; Nays: 22; Excused: 2
Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Das, Dhingra, Frockt, Hobbs, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, Mullet, Nguyen, Palumbo, Pedersen, Randall, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman, Wilson (Claire)
Voting Nay: Senators Bailey, Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Fortunato, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Holy, Honeyford, King, O’Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick, Wilson (Lynda), Zeiger
Excused: Senators Lovelett, McCoy
No Senate Republicans voted for the bill.
Two Democratic senators (Liz Lovelett and John McCoy) missed the vote and one (Bob Hasegawa) voted no. The chamber’s remaining Democrats voted aye.
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 Legislature 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 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 back to the Washington State House for final approval because it was modified by the Senate. The Senate’s amendment made the following changes, according to a summary prepared by nonpartisan staff:
- Removes the provision allowing a child to be exempt from vaccine requirements if the child has a parent or sibling with a history of immune system problems or an adverse reaction to a particular vaccine.
- Removes provisions that exempt individuals from further vaccination if they fail to mount a positive antibody response following a complete vaccine series.
- Removes the grandfather clause for high school students who currently hold a personal exemption.
Senate Republicans introduced more than a dozen amendments in an attempt to weaken the bill, but Democrats defeated each and every one of them.
If the House signs off on the Senate’s changes, then EHB 1638 will go to Governor Inslee for bill action. Alternatively, the House can ask the Senate to recede from its amendments. If the Senate refuses, a conference committee would be appointed to produce a final version for each chamber to consider.