OLYMPIA — As health officials continue dealing with a measles outbreak in southwest Washington, a state Senate panel on Wednesday will consider a bill that would end parents’ ability to exempt their school-aged children from any vaccination because of a personal belief.
A group of Democratic senators is pushing to remove the philosophical and personal exemption from state law and only allow parents to cite medical and religious reasons for not having their children vaccinated.
A public hearing on Senate Bill 5841 is slated for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Olympia in front of the Health and Long Term Care Committee.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, chairwoman of the Senate committee, is the prime sponsor.
“Vaccinations have proven critical in protecting children and the overall community from deadly diseases that were once very prevalent,” Cleveland said when she introduced the bill. “When people exempt their children from vaccinations, it can pose a risk to public health.”
In Clark County, there were 62 confirmed cases of measles as of Tuesday. There’s also been one in King County. The total is the most since an outbreak of 67 confirmed cases in 1991, according to the state Department of Health.
State law requires children attending public or private schools, or a licensed day care center, to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough). They also can enroll if they show proof of acquired immunity to the diseases.
Parents can obtain an exemption from vaccination for one or all of those diseases based on medical reasons, religious beliefs, and personal or philosophical objections.
The vast majority of exemptions are granted for personal beliefs.
While the Senate bill seeks to eliminate the personal exemption completely, the House is nearing a vote on a bill that would end use of the exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.
Under House Bill 1638, parents could still obtain a medical or religious exemption for the measles vaccine. And a personal exemption could be obtained for other vaccinations.
Hundreds of opponents showed up for a Feb. 8 hearing on the bill in front of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. The panel advanced the bill on a 10-5 vote Feb. 15.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday he supports the House bill to increase rates of vaccination against measles. He said he needed to review the language in the Senate legislation.
“I’ll have to look at the broader bill,” he said, “When we vaccinate children, we protect other children. It really is the right decision to call for the protection of all of our children.”
The hearing will be held in Hearing Room 4 of the John A. Cherberg Building. TVW will televise the hearing and provide live streaming online at TVW.org.