OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday that he supports a bill that would remove philosophical opposition as an acceptable reason for parents to not vaccinate their school-age children, calling it one strategy in the state’s efforts to increase vaccination rates.
“We all have an interest in keeping children healthy,” Inslee said in a statement. “If everyone gets immunized, our children would be at lower risk of getting these avoidable and serious infections. Immunizations save lives and are among the most effective ways to protect everyone from serious, preventable illnesses - especially young kids.”
Currently, Washington allows school vaccination exemptions for medical, personal or religious beliefs. Earlier this week, Rep. June Robinson, a Democrat from Everett, introduced House Bill 2009, which removes the personal or philosophical belief allowance for an exemption.
The measure, which has the support of the Washington State Medical Association, comes following a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people across the U.S., including in Washington state, and in Mexico. No deaths have been reported.
National immunization data from 2013 shows 71 percent of Washington children between ages 19-35 months have received all of their shots on time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Washington is among 20 states that allow for personal belief exemptions and 48 that allow for religious exemptions.
“We know parents care deeply for their children and some are afraid of these vaccines and worry that they cause disease,” Inslee wrote Friday. “I understand their fear, but there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the risks are minuscule and that my grandchildren and your children and grandchildren are safer if we all go to our doctor and get our shots.”
The state law concerning exemptions was last changed in 2011 to require proof that a parent seeking an exemption had received information from a health care provider about the benefits and risks of vaccinations. People who can demonstrate membership in a religious group that does not believe in medical treatment are exempted from this requirement.
Rep. Joe Schmick, a Republican from Colfax, voted against the 2011 bill and said he had concerns about this current proposal.
“I’m not against vaccination,” he said. “I just think it should be the parent’s choice.”
Senate Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that concerns over the bill will ultimately come up as the bill progresses, but he said that he believes there’s strong support for the measure.
“We’re seeing cases of measles and preventable diseases that I think need to be addressed,” he said Thursday. “We’re hearing from our school directors that this is a problem they want us to solve.”
Sen. Randi Becker, a Republican from Eatonville who is chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, said she’d be open to hearing the bill if it passed the House and came over to the Senate.
Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said he believes that parents should vaccinate their children, and said that Robinson’s bill is a “good step.”
“You can’t bring a peanut within 10 miles of a school but we can let kids in who aren’t vaccinated,” he said. “Our job is to make sure every child is safe.”
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