Politics & Government

Fight over vaccines hits Capitol as lawmakers consider restricting exemptions

Vaccination critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., front and center in suit, was at the state Capitol in Olympia on Friday to oppose a bill that would restrict exemptions for mandatory vaccinations.
Vaccination critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., front and center in suit, was at the state Capitol in Olympia on Friday to oppose a bill that would restrict exemptions for mandatory vaccinations. shauna.sowersby@thenewstribune.com

The fight over the efficacy and safety of vaccines hit the state Capitol on Friday as Washington health officials try to get a handle on a measles outbreak with 52 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has lawmakers considering a bill that would no longer allow personal or philosophical exemptions for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination, commonly known as MMR.

The bill would allow exemptions for those who have documented proof of immunity through laboratory evidence. Religious exemptions still would be allowed under the bill.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in my community have been involved in this issue and have lent their support for this bill. They are very concerned,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and sponsor of HB 1638. “They’re concerned about our community, its immunity and the community safety.”

Dr. John Wiesman is the Washington state Secretary of Health.

“We are currently in the midst of a totally preventable measles outbreak,” Wiesman said Friday. “The outbreak we’re dealing with right now is larger and infecting people faster than in recent history. Outbreaks like this one are about unvaccinated children, not specific communities or ethnic groups.”

Wiesman urged the House Health Care & Wellness committee to pass the bill in order to protect vulnerable people. He said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk and that this is a child safety issue.

Others are not convinced.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testified against the bill. Kennedy is a leader in the movement against vaccines, particularly regarding the safety of the MMR vaccine.

“We don’t know the risk profile of the MMR vaccine,” said Kennedy. “There is no safety testing for the vaccine.”

Others opposed to the bill said that the mandate will violate patient’s rights to informed consent.

Hundreds were in attendance for the public hearing, including many concerned parents and others who are firmly against state-mandated vaccinations.

“I believe in medical freedom and parental choice above everything,” said Ana Little, a naturopathic doctor who came to the Capitol to protest the bill. “If people want to vaccinate that’s fine, but you should be able to choose what you put in your body.”

Only eight people were allowed to testify. HB 1638 will be voted on by the Health Care & Wellness committee during an executive session Feb. 13.

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