The Legislature must protect children with compromised immune systems and eliminate the personal exemption for all childhood vaccines, not just the measles vaccine.
On Monday, the editorial board endorsed a bill that would eliminate the personal exemption for the measles vaccine. While that bill has merit, it’s too limited. The Senate has a better bill we support that would eliminate the personal exemption for all childhood vaccines. This bill is the most responsible public health response to the measles epidemic in our state.
Often, parents choose not to vaccinate their children because of a long-ago debunked theory that childhood vaccinations are linked to autism.
But, this week, a new large study of more than a half million people presents more powerful conclusions that there is no link between routine childhood vaccines and autism. The findings underscore the importance of efforts in the Washington Legislature to eliminate the ability of parents to opt-out of vaccinations because of philosophical reasons.
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Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study by researchers at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut tracked the records of children who received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines from 1999 through 2010 and compared them with autism diagnoses. Their findings indicate no connection between autism and vaccinations, not even in populations with a family history of the disorder and other risk factors.
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Though this confirms the findings of multiple other studies, the size of the sample lends strength to the argument that there is no reason to withhold vaccines from children for fear of causing autism.
This is particularly relevant to Washington state, where a measles epidemic hitting mostly in Clark County has affected dozens of people never immunized.
Senate Bill 5841 is the best chance of ending the practice of withholding vaccines for philosophical reasons. It would remove the personal exemption for all childhood vaccines required in public schools or publicly accredited private schools. House Bill 1638 would eliminate the personal exemption only for the measles vaccine. That improves current state law but it is not enough. Both bills have passed out of committee, HB 1638 has passed the House and SB 5841 could soon see action on the Senate floor.
To be clear, whether to vaccinate your child is not simply an issue of personal beliefs. An unvaccinated child is not only susceptible to life-threatening illness; he or she also puts other children and adults with vulnerable immune systems at extreme risk.
A child being treated for cancer or HIV/AIDS may be in the same classroom with a child whose parents don’t believe in vaccines.
For the classmate with the compromised immune system, that could be life-threatening.
The Legislature must remember the child who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons and pass SB 5841.