Hundreds of anti-vaccination supporters convened outside of a public hearing in Washington state on Friday to protest a bill that would make it harder for families to opt out of vaccinating their children. Meanwhile, a measles outbreak is sweeping across Washington state, where 52 cases have been confirmed so far and dozens more are suspected.
The new bill would take away parents’ ability to opt out of vaccinating their school-age children for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) on the grounds of “personal or philosophical exemption.” Republican state Rep. Paul Harris introduced the bill, which in its current state would continue to allow parents to forgo vaccinations due to medical and religious beliefs.
“You cannot find a peanut in one of my schools, but unvaccinated kids are walking around in my schools because of a personal exemption?” Harris said, according to the Washington Post. “I find it appalling.” The bill also has the support of the state medical association and Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared a state of emergency in January due to the measles outbreak.
On the other side of the debate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. traveled to Washington state to protest the bill, testifying on Friday at a public hearing, saying, “Do we want to be a country that forces its children or parents to engage in risky medical interventions without informed consent?”
Vaccination rates in the Pacific Northwest are some of the lowest in the nation. According to health officials, if 90-95 percent of a population is vaccinated, outbreaks can be prevented, and in 2000, the United States even declared that measles had been eliminated, thanks to vaccination efforts. In Clark County, Washington, where this outbreak is centered, the vaccination rate is 78 percent, according to the Washington State Department of Health website. Due to the outbreak, more than six times as many people in the area received the MMR vaccine between Jan. 13 and Feb. 2 this year, as during the same time last year.
Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly. If an unvaccinated person is near someone who has measles, that individual has a 90 percent chance of contracting the disease. While anti-vaxxers claim vaccinations are dangerous, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the MMR vaccination is both safe and 97 percent effective.
The bill will next be voted on by the state’s Health and Wellness Committee, and if it’s passed there it will be taken to the House. Lawmakers who support the bill are hopeful that the measure will be passed by April.
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