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News / Clark County News

Local lawmakers weigh in on vaccine exemption

Measure before Legislature would remove personal-belief exclusion

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: February 6, 2015, 4:00pm

Vaccine Bill

Number: HB 2009.

Sponsor: Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett.

Summary: The measure would no longer consider a personal-belief against vaccinations sufficient enough of a reason to not immunize children.

Online: HB 2009.

The nationwide debate over vaccinations has spread to the Washington Legislature, where lawmakers want to end the personal-belief exemption for immunizing children.

“I think it’s important our kids get vaccinated, but I also think that those who have religious views against it have the right to bow out,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, who has signed on to the measure. “But everybody else needs to be vaccinated.”

Vaccine Bill

Number: HB 2009.

Sponsor: Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett.

Summary: The measure would no longer consider a personal-belief against vaccinations sufficient enough of a reason to not immunize children.

Online: HB 2009.

If passed, the measure would keep the existing exemptions for both religious and medical reasons, but strike the philosophical-belief exemption currently on the books.

“I think people choose the personal exemption because they don’t think the vaccines are safe,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who is the chief sponsor of the measure and a former King County health department employee. Robinson said science doesn’t support that thinking.

“You are not protecting your child’s health by not vaccinating them; you are endangering your child’s health,” she said. “We’ve done research for years and years in response to these myths that vaccines are dangerous, and it’s been proven the vaccines are safe.”

The debate over vaccines is not new. In 2011, the Legislature changed the law to say parents had to speak to a health care provider if they wanted to be exempt from vaccinations. And any further change in the law will likely be accompanied with a passionate debate.

Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said it’s up to the parents to decide what is in their child’s best interest. Once the child is older, if they want to get vaccinated, they can, she said.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, echoed her sentiments.

“While my wife and I made the decision that vaccinations were important to our family, I do not feel comfortable in making those decisions for anyone else’s family,” Vick said.

“These are medical decisions that should be made between a doctor and a patient or the parents of a child, based upon both medical evidence and personal convictions.”

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said she would keep an open mind about the measure.

“Parents should have the ultimate authority over all heath decisions for their children. However, they are also responsible for those decisions. That said, other children should not be put at risk in public or private schools due to non-immunized children,” Pike wrote in an email.

For the 2013-14 school year, 6.8 percent of Clark County students were not vaccinated, including 5.61 percent whose parents used the personal exemption to opt out.

Some schools in the state, Robinson said, are at risk for passing the “herd immunity mark.” Herd immunity is the concept that if enough people are vaccinated it lowers the chance of an outbreak.

“When you have more than 10 percent not vaccinated, you put everyone at risk,” Robinson said.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said it’s the right time to give changing the law a shot.

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“The wind is at our back,” Moeller said, noting “the recent spread of measles at Disneyland.”

“We thought we had measles eradicated in the U.S.,” he said. “I believe in medical exemptions and I believe in religious exemptions, but I do not believe in personal exemptions.”

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said she’s pleased this will be part of the dialogue this legislative session. While growing up, she had a cousin who contracted a case of the measles and the mumps at the same time.

“She spent the rest of her life institutionalized because of severe brain damage because of those so-called benign child diseases,” Wylie said.

“These people don’t remember what it was like before they were able to vaccinate against these diseases. They are so incredibly contagious,” she said.

The governor has also thrown his support behind the measure.

“Immunizations save lives and are among the most effective ways to protect everyone from serious, preventable illnesses — especially young kids,” Inslee said in a statement. “High rates of immunizations protect everyone; including those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with weakened immune systems. We are currently experiencing a measles outbreak in the United States, and many of those infected were unvaccinated. Measles is highly contagious, and if you are not immunized and walk into a room two hours after someone with measles was there, you can catch the disease.”

Southwest Washington senators noted they had yet to look at the measure. But Sen. Annette Cleveland said in an email, “We all want what is best for our children and to give them the best start in life possible. If vaccinations can save them from preventable illnesses and even death, I think it is incumbent upon us to ensure that this discussion occurs.”

Liz Coleman, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she is in favor of providing educational materials to parents making this decision.

“As far as restricting people’s rights, we need to take a look at that before we are letting government be a bigger part of people’s lives,” Coleman said.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, did not return a call for comment.

Columbian Political Writer