Washington State Passes Vaccine Bill Against Anti-Vaxxers

According to SFGate, the Washington state Senate narrowly passed a measure late Wednesday that would make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children against the measles in response to the state's worst measles outbreak in more than two decades.

The bill, which would eliminate personal or philosophical exemptions from the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, is a victory for public health advocates who had not expected it to make it to the floor.

The measure passed 25 to 22 in the Democratic-controlled chamber, after being brought to the floor just minutes before the legislative deadline. No Republicans voted in favor, and two Democrats voted against.

Left and Right react:

State Sen. Annette Cleveland, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, told colleagues that a vote against the bill would be "a vote against public health, a vote against the safety of our public spaces."

After the measure passed, she referred to the "unfortunate reality today that many people embrace conspiracy theories and alternative facts more readily than proven science."

"It's even more disappointing," she said in a statement to The Washington Post, "when you hear colleagues across the aisle share their constituents' unsubstantiated Internet theories over the expert knowledge of our country's best medical minds at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Republican senators opposing the measure spoke repeatedly about government overreach. "I really believe parents should have the right to decide what type of medical procedures to use on their children, and that's especially true of little ones," said state Sen. Mike Padden.

But the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Paul Harris, a moderate Republican whose Clark County district is at the center of the outbreak, said, "People are forgetting what some of these diseases are like." 

He added, "I hope this will get more kids vaccinated, which is the ultimate goal of all this. . . . We forget that science is what has made a huge difference in our society. Community immunity trumps personal freedom at times, especially what's going on now with all the measles outbreaks."

Experts rejoiced:

"We are elated!" said Sarah Rafton, executive director of the Washington chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Rupin Thakkar, president of the AAP chapter, blamed dangerous measles outbreaks on the rise of vaccine exemptions for personal beliefs and applauded the legislature for eliminating them. "The recent measles outbreak served as an alarm, and today our legislators bravely stood with facts over fiction," he said.

Public health officials had worried the bill was headed for defeat, which would have suggested "a very vocal minority has a disproportionate amount of influence on an issue that impacts everybody," said Michael Fraser, chief executive for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

"We need to look at the tactics used by opponents to better understand how these could play out in other states, and address those issues head on anticipating similar arguments," he added after the vote.

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