Washington state Senate panel advances bill limiting vaccine exemptions

FILE - This Feb. 6, 2015, file photo, shows a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine on a countertop at a pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. A measles outbreak near Portland has sickened dozens of people in Oregon and Washington, with several more cases suspected, and public health officials scrambling to contain the virus say low vaccination rates are making the situation worse. Clark County Public Health said Sunday, Jan. 28, 2019, that the majority of the cases involve children younger than 10. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state Senate committee advanced a measure Friday that would do away with the option for parents to claim a personal or philosophical exemption for their children's school vaccinations.

The Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee passed the measure on a 7-4 party line vote a day after health officials identified a new case of measles in the state.

A House committee approved a more limited bill a week ago that would only remove the philosophical exemption for the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Both bills could be up for floor votes in their respective chambers in the coming weeks.

"It's unclear to some of us that the current system with the exemptions that we have has led to a material and negative change in diseases that can be prevented by vaccines," Republican Sen. Steve O'Ban said before casting a 'no' vote. "

Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland, the committee's chairwoman, disagreed.

"The proof is actually in the fact that we no longer have eradication of these diseases," she said.

The legislation comes amid an outbreak that has sickened 65 people in Washington state, with all but one of the cases in Clark County, just north of Portland, Oregon. Clark County Public Health identified a new case Thursday and is currently investigating two suspected cases. The Portland metropolitan area has seen four cases related to the outbreak in southwestern Washington.

Washington currently allows vaccination exemptions for children at public or private schools or licensed day-care centers based on medical, religious and personal or philosophical beliefs. Unless an exemption is claimed, a child is required to be vaccinated against or show proof of acquired immunity for nearly a dozen diseases — including polio, whooping cough and mumps — before they can attend school or a child care center.

Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions, the state Department of Health said. Of those, 3.7 percent of the exemptions are personal, and the rest are religious.

In Clark County, 6.7 percent of kindergartners had a non-medical exemption for the 2017-18 school year, health officials said.

Washington is among 17 states, including Oregon, that allow some type of non-medical vaccine exemption for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in public and private schools in 2015 after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada. Vermont also abandoned its personal exemption in 2015.

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