Parents may choose not to vaccinate their children for several reasons, including the belief that vaccines can cause autism, which was disproved. The prime sponsor of the bill argues that, in this case, obligations to keep neighbors safe override personal rights.
OLYMPIA — As measles cases continue to rise in Washington, state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would ban exemptions for the disease’s vaccine on a philosophical or personal basis.
As of Monday afternoon, 35 cases of measles, which was eradicated in 1963 after introduction of a vaccine, had been confirmed in Clark County, with 25 of those being in children under the age of 10, according to Clark County Public Health. Thirty-one of those cases were in people that were not immunized, while the other four have yet to be verified.
One person in Clark County was hospitalized due to the disease.
One King County man in his 50s was hospitalized due to measles and has since recovered. Although officials have not yet determined where he contracted the disease, they say he may have been exposed during a recent trip to Vancouver, Clark County’s largest city, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
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There are 11 other suspect cases of measles in the southwest Washington county, according to Clark County Public Health.
Nearby Portland has been dubbed a “hot spot” for infections due to a high rate of nonmedical exemptions from vaccines by researchers, according to The Washington Post. While the state as a whole had an exemption rate of 4 percent on philosophical, personal or religious grounds for vaccines required for kindergarten enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year, Clark County had a rate of just under 7 percent.
Nationally, the nonmedical exemption rate for this period was approximately 2 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Parents may choose not to vaccinate their children for several reasons, including the belief that vaccines can cause autism, which was disproved by a 2013 CDC study. Washington is one of 18 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccines for non-religious reasons.
The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, argues that, in this case, obligations to keep neighbors safe override personal rights.
“The communal rights and the ability to not have disease actually supersedes our religious rights,” said Harris, who noted that he was spurred to propose the legislation because of the outbreak in his district. “It’s very important that we protect our community and protect our children.”
The CDC says two doses of measles vaccine, which are approximately 97 percent effective, will protect people for life. For those three out of every 100 people who are fully vaccinated but still contract the disease, the illness is likely to be more mild and they are less likely to spread measles to others.
The CDC considers those born before 1957 to be protected from measles because they’ve been exposed to epidemics and have likely developed an immunity.
Dr. John Lynch, medical director of infection control at Harborview Medical Center, noted how quickly measles can spread.
“If you take 10 people who have not been vaccinated, never had measles, and you expose them to someone with measles, nine out of 10 of them are likely to get infected,” said Lynch, noting vaccinated kids don’t need to be too worried. “It’s a very, very contagious disease and the vaccine is extremely good at preventing transmission.”
Measles symptoms include a high fever of 104 degrees or higher, runny nose, cough and red, watery eyes, according to Lynch. The highly contagious disease, which can be easily spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, can stay in the air or on a surface for two hours.
Complications from measles can include pneumonia and central-nervous-system infections, says Lynch.
Harris said that Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, who chairs the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, has agreed to give the bill a public hearing in the next couple of weeks.
A similar bill, which Harris co-sponsored, passed through the committee in 2015 with several Republicans voting against it, but the legislation never received a floor vote in the House. The National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-immunization organization criticized as a leading source of misinformation on the topic, was among those that testified against the bill.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Friday amid a growing number of measles cases, almost all of which were based in Clark County. He called the outbreak an “extreme public-health risk that may quickly spread to other counties” in his proclamation.
The declaration, which allows the state to ask for medical resources from other states, is enabling a public-health incident-management team from North Dakota to support Washington’s efforts, according to Kristen Maki, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
In a statement, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee noted his past support for measures similar to the one being pushed by Harris and more than a dozen co-sponsors.
“The governor has supported efforts to remove from state law the philosophical opposition as a reason not to vaccine,” the statement reads. “In 2016, the governor secured funding to improve our school based vaccination tracking, which ensured more kids are up to date on their vaccinations.”
In 2018, there were 349 confirmed cases of measles spanning 26 states and the District of Columbia, the second-greatest number of cases in a year since measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the CDC.