Senate passes bill to drop personal exemption to measles vaccine

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OLYMPIA – In a late night party-line vote, the Washington Senate approved the removal of the personal exemption for the measles, mumps, and rubella, the MMR vaccine on Wednesday.

Senate Republicans used parliamentary stalling techniques Wednesday evening in hopes that the bill would not be read into the record before the 5 p.m. deadline to pass bills from the other chamber. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib believed enough of the bill had been read into the record and the proceedings continued with 18 proposed amendments.

None of the floor amendments passed. However, the bill did narrowly pass in a 25-22 vote.

“I don’t know of any minority that hasn’t used a number of tools at their disposal in the final hours,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, of the attempt to kill the bill.

Currently, there is a measles outbreak in Clark County with 73 confirmed cases. In January, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak.

Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. Nevertheless, 555 cases have been reported in 2019 nationwide.

Children in Washington are required to have the MMR vaccine to attend a school or daycare center. Parents must provide proof of full immunization or documentation of an exemption. Under this new legislation, religious and medical exemptions are still valid but those who previously had a personal exemption would be required to vaccinate their children.

One of the goals of the legislation is to reach “herd immunity,” which occurs when a large percentage of the community is vaccinated making it more difficult for those who medically cannot have the vaccine get the disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC.

According to the Department of Health, 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.

According to Sen. Linda Wilson, R-Vancouver, the science is not settled on this issue. She cited issues with the pertussis vaccine in her floor speech as a reason to look at the side effects of vaccines.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said without this measure there is “the potential for needless suffering,” if measles outbreaks continue. Cleveland called a vote against this bill “a vote against public health.”

Groups of personal exemption supporters have been protesting on the Capitol campus throughout the session, including a protest on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday morning prior to the vote. During the floor debate, many senators referenced the large volume of constituent emails they have received on the issue.

House Bill 1638’s prime sponsor, Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, was the only Republican sponsor. The House voted 57-40 to approve the bill on March 5.

The Senate amended the bill in committee and therefore the legislation needs approval from the House before going to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law.

WNPA reporter Madeline Coats contributed to this story

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