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 (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:

Roll Call
EHB 1638
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.

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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Removes pro­vi­sions that exempt indi­vid­u­als from fur­ther vac­ci­na­tion if they fail to mount a pos­i­tive anti­body response fol­low­ing a com­plete vac­cine series.
  3. 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.

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.

Adjacent posts

3 replies on “Washington State Senate passes bill ending the personal exemption for MMR vaccine”

  1. So a “reli­gious” com­mu­ni­ty for­goes vac­ci­na­tion, has 70+ cas­es of a very mild virus, now has life­time immu­ni­ty and you enact a law to for­bid philo­soph­i­cal exemp­tions. This law would have stopped the out­break how?
    Addi­tion­al­ly, your 78% stat is incor­rect. Clark Coun­ty only has an exemp­tion rate of 5.3%. You can not count Kinder­gart­ners as unvac­ci­nat­ed when they’ve had 1 dose and not due yet for their 2nd dose. 1st does is giv­en 12–24 month; 2nd dose is giv­en 48–84 months. Young Kinders have until their 7th birth­day to receive the 2nd dose. They’re not out of com­pli­ance, nor are they unvac­ci­nat­ed. Nor is there such a thing as vac­cine induced herd immu­ni­ty. The term herd immu­ni­ty was first used in 1923. It was rec­og­nized as a nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring phe­nom­e­non in the 1930s when it was observed that after a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of chil­dren had become immune to measles from hav­ing the wild virus, the num­ber of new infec­tions tem­porar­i­ly decreased, includ­ing among sus­cep­ti­ble chil­dren. Since vac­cines do not pro­duce immu­ni­ty, vac­cines can not pro­vide herd immunity.
    You can not erad­i­cate dis­ease with a live vac­cine. If measles was erad­i­cat­ed, then it would be gone. So where did it come from? (the vac­cine and the occa­sion­al wild case from anoth­er coun­try) The unvac­ci­nat­ed do not mag­i­cal­ly have the dis­eases in their pock­ets like fairy dust to throw about the world.
    Last­ly, the gov­ern­ment does not have the Con­sti­tu­tion­al author­i­ty to make laws the Peo­ple did­n’t request to be made.

  2. “and one (Bob Hasegawa) vot­ed no.”

    Wrong. Two Dems vot­ed against it: Hasegawa and Sheldon.

    1. Tim Shel­don is not a Demo­c­rat. He cau­cus­es with the Repub­li­cans and is con­sid­ered by the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to be a Repub­li­can. We also con­sid­er him a Repub­li­can. He can call him­self a Demo­c­rat, but that does­n’t make him one. Actions speak loud­er than words.

Comments are closed.