This editorial appeared in the Dec. 22 (Tacoma) News Tribune.
Count us among the thousands of Washingtonians who felt a surge of holiday joy last week when Gov. Jay Inslee rolled out revised guidelines allowing more students to return to campus. Glory hallelujah!
Now comes the reality check. Teachers have valid safety concerns about resuming in-person school. And various obstacles could thwart families from sending kids back to class after months of cabin fever and the limitations of remote learning.
One of those obstacles is noncompliance with state immunization laws, which became stricter last year.
The last thing Washington needs right now is a renewal of the anti-vaxx wars. What’s worse is that opportunists may try to fan the flames of anxiety over the new COVID-19 vaccines.
Some Republican state lawmakers are already lighting torches, preparing bills for the 2021 Legislature that promote immunization skepticism. Minority GOP caucus leaders and majority Democrats should snuff these out quickly.
Exaggerated fears about one vaccine have potential to bleed into others. And routine pediatric vaccinations have already declined during the pandemic, plunging 27 to 40 percent last spring. Washingtonians stayed home, didn’t go to the doctor and didn’t prioritize scheduling their children for the standard shots needed to go to school.
That’s why we’re raising an early-warning flag on a pair of bills coming to the 2021 Legislature — one by state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; the other by Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick.
They seek to preemptively ban any COVID-19 vaccination mandate that may be imposed by Washington employers, schools or transportation authorities. “We need to stop discrimination before it begins,” Ericksen said in a Dec. 17 press release.
First of all, discrimination is typically based on attributes like race, gender and age. Not being vaccinated is a personal choice with harmful impacts on public health.
While we don’t like the timing of Ericksen’s bill, at least it raises issues regarding the fast-track vaccines that Washington has yet to grapple with. (It’s still in the draft stage, so we haven’t seen it.)
Klippert’s bill, on the other hand, has been pre-filed and is clearly a Trojan horse; it aims to reignite a battle that policymakers already fought and his side lost.
House Bill 1006 would restore the philosophical or personal objection to the MMR vaccine requirement at schools and child care centers. This carte-blanche exemption was easily abused, so lawmakers eliminated it after much debate and an anti-vaxxer outcry last year.
To bring it back now is the worst kind of recycling. Has coronavirus so dominated our lives that we’ve already forgotten the measles outbreak of 2019, the largest in our state in three decades?
Right now our state needs an all-hands effort to protect people of all ages against destructive strains of infectious disease, both old and new.
What we don’t need is partisan pandering that plants seeds of mistrust.