NW Lawmakers Consider Limiting Exemptions As Confirmed Measles Cases Top 50

By Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB)
Feb. 4, 2019 7:13 p.m.

Lawmakers in Washington are considering legislation that would do away with the state's personal and philosophical vaccination exemption law. The number of confirmed measles cases in the Pacific Northwest reached 51 as of Monday.

All but two of those confirmed cases are in Clark County, Washington, where about 86 percent of cases involve unimmunized people. Washington lawmakers are looking at the state's vaccination exemption laws and low vaccination rates at some schools as the culprits of the outbreak.


Related: As Measles Cases Grow, Washington Lawmakers Look To Change Vaccination Law

"This personal privilege that I think many parents have had for an amount of time here in Washington is beginning to impose on the same rights that others have," Washington Rep. Monica Stonier, a Democrat, told OPB's Think Out Loud Monday.

"The broader community also has a right to have a healthy and safe community, and our schools and our parks and hospitals should be able to operate without much concern for a measles outbreak," she said.

Stonier said lawmakers are looking at a bipartisan bill that would tighten language around the state's religious exemption, and extinguish the personal and philosophical exemption.


"The personal exemption is one that exists in not many places around the country, but it has been used so broadly now that our communities are at risk," said Stonier.

Washington has been in a state of emergency over the measles outbreak since January, and Clark County's health officer has said he expects the crisis to last well into February.

One case has also been confirmed in Seattle, and another case was confirmed in Multnomah County on Jan. 25.

Oregon has its own religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions, but nearly every place providing child care service requires immunization or a medical or nonmedical exemption to stay enrolled. That includes those who attend public or private school, preschools, child care facilities or Head Start programs.

Parents can still get nonmedical exemptions in Oregon by completing an online education module or by talking to a health care provider and getting a signed Vaccine Education Certificate. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has urged parents to vaccinate their kids.

Related: Oregon Governor On Measles Outbreak: 'Get Your Children Vaccinated ... Holy Smokes'

At least one bill being considered by Oregon lawmakers would require parents who decline immunization to submit a signature from a health care practitioner to a school administrator verifying they've reviewed immunization information with the exempting parent.

Idaho has religious and medical exemption laws, too. That state has some of the highest exemption rates in the nation, according to the Department of Health and Welfare and the Associated Press. Legislation there requires daycare centers and schools to notify parents of the exemption, but the law has been delayed because of concerns over the cost of the new requirement.