Allowing parents to exempt their children from lifesaving vaccines for philosophical reasons puts others in danger and must end.
Washington is one of just 18 states that lets parents opt out of vaccines because of personal, moral or other beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A measles epidemic centered in Clark County clearly illustrates why this law must be changed.
Of 65 confirmed cases of measles in Clark County since the beginning of the year, 57 of those infected were not immunized against the highly contagious disease and six others have unverified immunization status, according to the county health department. Only about three out of four Clark County school students received all their required vaccinations last year, according to school district data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises anyone with a weakened immune system due to cancer treatment or HIV/AIDS not to receive the MMR vaccine that protects from mumps, measles and rubella. The CDC lists a few other health reasons for avoiding or postponing vaccines.
But a child with fragile health, whose doctor advises to delay vaccines for health reasons, could be in extreme danger in Washington state because so many parents use philosophical exemptions. Vulnerable children are much more likely to be exposed to measles than they should be because Washington allows parents to skip required immunizations based solely on their personal beliefs.
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Two Clark County lawmakers are working to change that for the health of all Washington children with compromised immune systems.
The Health Care and Wellness Committee passed House Bill 1638, which is awaiting action on the House floor. Republican Rep. Paul Harris and his Democratic seat mate, Rep. Monica Stonier, are confident their bill will pass.
Nationwide, the nonmedical vaccine exemption rate for kindergarten students in the 2017-18 school year was about 2 percent, according to the CDC. Washington had an exemption rate for philosophical, personal or religious reasons of 4 percent. And Clark County had a 6.7 percent exemption rate, according to state data.
Harris' bill would not apply to other required immunizations, including ones designed to prevent the spread of pertussis, meningitis and hepatitis B. But it is a good start, especially in light of the recent measles epidemic, which illustrated how fast this disease can spread.
The Legislature should work toward eliminating the personal vaccine exemption more broadly, to protect the health of medically vulnerable children. But first, lawmakers should pass House Bill 1638.