By Madeline Coats
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
A proposed bill would eliminate the philosophical or personal objection used to exempt children from vaccines required to attend schools in Washington state.
Senate Bill 5841 is co-sponsored by a group of 10 Democratic senators and introduced by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.
There is a current measles outbreak in Clark County with 62 confirmed cases, Cleveland said. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a public health emergency in Clark County on Jan. 18.
“This outbreak threatens the health of not only unvaccinated children but those that cannot receive vaccinations,” said Cleveland at a public hearing on Wednesday.
Under the bill, a child would be prohibited from attending a school or licensed day care center unless they have proof of full immunization or a certificate of exemption.
“In the 2017-18 school year, the rate of kindergarten personal belief exemptions was 3.7 percent, compared to only 0.2 percent for religious reasons and 0.8 percent for medical necessity,” said Cleveland.
Full immunization includes vaccines for chickenpox, diphtheria, measles, German measles, Haemophilus influenzae type B disease, hepatitis B, mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, tetanus and whooping cough, the legislation states.
Dr. John Wiesman, secretary of the state Department of Health, testified in support of the bill. Once in use, vaccines are continuously monitored by the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations for safety reasons, he said.
“Vaccines are very safe and effective,” said Wiesman. “Vaccines undergo much research and safety testing before they are licensed.”
In order for a child to be exempt from all or part of the immunization requirement, they must provide a written certification signed by a health care practitioner that a particular vaccine is not advisable, as referenced in the measure. The same is required of a parent or guardian who believes their religious beliefs are contrary to the required immunization.
Jill Collier, a registered nurse, spoke in opposition of the bill. She said there is nothing simple about obtaining a medical exemption. Medical providers are more hesitant than ever to find medical exemptions because of the increased hostility around this debate, she said.
“There is no guarantee a vaccine is going to be without risk,” said Collier. “Unfortunately we learn about some of these kids’ genetic susceptibilities in their autopsy reports.”
Dr. Elias Kass, a naturopathic physician, works with vaccine-hesitant families on a daily basis. He testified in support of the bill because of his belief that all kids deserve to be protected from disease.
“There are so many things we can’t prevent, there is so much suffering available,” said Kass. “Let’s give all of our kids the opportunity to grow up without the diseases we can prevent.”