Washington is one of only 18 states that lets parents opt of having their child vaccinated because of personal, moral or other beliefs. State lawmakers should eliminate that option.
The ongoing outbreak of measles in Clark County should prompt state legislators to finally correct Washington’s loose policy surrounding mandatory vaccinations.
Washington is one of only 18 states that lets parents opt out of having their child vaccinated because of personal, moral or other beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The high rate of people taking advantage of this philosophical exemption in certain areas is detrimental to the health of their communities.
It is not an option that should exist.
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The law already allows children to be exempted from required vaccinations if they have a valid medical condition, or if the vaccinations conflict with their family’s religious beliefs.
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But the option to dodge required immunizations based solely on a parent’s “philosophical or personal objection” is one that puts too many children at risk. It also endangers others whose immune systems are compromised, including people with conditions such as cancer, HIV and type 1 diabetes.
Though an effort to change the law failed in 2015, Washington lawmakers should try again.
Of the 30 confirmed measles cases in Clark County, 26 of those infected were not immunized against the highly contagious disease, the county health department said Friday. Those numbers are likely to grow — last week, a measles case in King County was linked to the Clark County outbreak. On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared the outbreak a statewide emergency.
Meanwhile, only about three out of four Clark County school students received all their required vaccinations last year, according to school district data. That is a much worse rate than throughout the rest of the state and King County, where more than 88 percent of students had all their vaccinations.
Even that rate is too low, given that scientific studies have repeatedly shown vaccines are safe and effective at combating infectious disease.
Still, anti-vaccination sentiment pervades plenty of local communities. The Vashon Island School District, for instance, ranks among the school districts with the highest number of families claiming the personal exemption, with 16.3 percent using it to decline one or more vaccinations for their children.
State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, is sponsoring legislation to eliminate the personal exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. His bill would not apply to other required immunizations, however, including ones designed to prevent the spread of pertussis, meningitis and hepatitis B.
Harris’ bill is an important start, given how easily measles can spread. But the Legislature should eliminate the personal exemption more broadly, so that it can no longer be used to avoid any mandatory childhood vaccinations.
Lawmakers must decide to be the adults in the room. They should no longer let parents avoid vaccinating their children based on philosophical objections that are wholly detached from science.