Come cut-off time… you never know what can happen. Bills live on, die, are negotiated at length – all in last-ditch efforts to make it through the final cut-off. One such bill added extra drama on Wednesday and has been one of the most controversial bills this session.

HB 1638 – which removes the personal and philosophical exemptions from MMR vaccine requirements was voted out of the Senate late Wednesday night on a vote of 25-22. The bill now heads back to the House where Senate committee amendments will either be accepted or rejected.

In the flurry of floor activity before 5 pm, it was unclear whether or not the bill was correctly brought to the Senate floor. After a number of stalling tactics, it looked like the bill would die on the floor. With literally minutes to spare (the clock read 4:57 at the WSAC office) Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib read the bill before moving onto other legislation, ensuring that it could be brought back up for a vote later that night. A later vote is exactly what happened.

After 18 amendments to delay, weaken, or alter the bill were all defeated, and a little over two hours of debate, the bill was passed.

Washington is one of the 17 states that allows exemptions for all required school vaccines based on personal, moral or other beliefs. This bill removes that exemption specifically for the MMR vaccine – which is the vaccine used to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Medical and religious exemptions are still accepted for the MMR and all school required vaccines.

HB 1638 was one of two bills dropped this session in response to the measles outbreak in Washington this winter where 74 people – almost all children were sickened with the disease. There are several areas within the state where the number of unvaccinated is high enough that herd immunity becomes ineffective in times of outbreaks. The bill sponsors of this legislation hope that through eliminating the personal exemption, vaccination rates will increase as a means of preventing future outbreaks and protecting communities from vaccine-preventable diseases.

During the outbreak, the local health jurisdiction hired additional staff and diverted several other department staff to assist in the investigation and control work. Over 4,000 residents were part of the larger control effort. Two incubation periods, or a total of 42 days, are needed for the outbreak to be declared over.

The cost for the outbreak for Clark County has exceeded $800,000 with additional costs incurred from the state and neighboring counties. While some cost will be covered from federal grants, the bulk of expenses will likely be covered through local revenue unless additional funding is provided through the state.

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Jaime Bodden

Jaime Bodden is the Managing Director for WSALPHO. Previously, Jaime managed and oversaw the operations of a small health department as Health Officer/Director. Additionally, Jaime has experience in community engagement, health promotion, global health, and health policy. She holds Master degrees in Social Work and Public Health from Washington University in St. Louis.
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