Vaccination exemptions survive after bill loses steam

OLYMPIA — Parents in Washington can continue citing their personal beliefs as a reason to not vaccinate their school-age children after an Everett lawmaker’s effort to get rid of the allowance fizzled Wednesday.

A House bill to strip the personal beliefs exemption from the state vaccination law failed to get a floor vote before a 5 p.m. cut-off deadline for legislation.

“I’m disappointed that we can’t move it this year,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who introduced House Bill 2009 in response to a measles outbreak that sickened dozens of children across the U.S., including in Washington.

“I know we will continue to see disease outbreaks in our communities because vaccinations levels are low,” she said. “I’m committed to bringing (the bill) back next year.”

The bill had 27 sponsors, including Republicans, and was backed by Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Medical Association.

But that wasn’t enough to overcome the resistance of lawmakers concerned the bill stripped parents of their ability to raise their children as they see fit.

“The push back was large,” Robinson said. “We were very close to a vote. Every member here has received a lot of communication from people who didn’t want the bill to move.”

Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, was prepared to vote against it.

“I immunized my kids. I think it’s the responsible thing to do,” he said. But the bill “takes away parental rights.”

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, was one of the sponsors. He said Wednesday he could have supported the bill if it retained the personal beliefs exemption for vaccines derived from live microorganisms such as the one for measles.

Parents have a “legitimate right” to object to that vaccine versus those that are made from inactive components for diseases such as whooping cough, he said.

Children attending public schools are required to be vaccinated against infectious diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, polio and pertussis or whooping cough. They also can enroll if they show proof of acquired immunity to the diseases.

Under state law, parents or guardians can obtain a vaccination exemption for medical, personal or religious beliefs. Washington is one of 20 states that allow for an exemption on personal belief or philosophical grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2011, the state passed a law requiring parents seeking an exemption on personal or philosophical grounds to provide proof they had received information from a health care provider about the benefits and risks of vaccinations.

National immunization data from 2013 show 71 percent of Washington children between 19 and 35 months old have received all of their shots on time.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, said the conversation will be ongoing to increase the rate.

Otherwise, she said, “we’ll see kids contracting measles and pertussis and we’ll see deaths again.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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