By Ashley Hiruko
A house bill could add pressure on Washington parents to vaccinate their children, and it’s generating arguments on all sides of the vaccination issue.
House Bill 1638, a response to the recent state measles outbreak, would remove the personal and religious exemptions currently allowed for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Fifty of the state’s 51 confirmed cases originated in Clark County, where officials believe the state measles epidemic began among a cohort of unvaccinated Vancouver school children. And from there it spread to a man in King County and four others in Oregon.
On Jan. 25, Gov. Jay Inslee declared the measles outbreak a state of emergency, allocating state resources to aid in mitigating the spread of the virus that lives in mucus of the nose and throat.
Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and physician at Seattle Chil-dren’s Hospital, said he understands the importance of vaccines. He was young in his career when doctors began distributing the Haemophilus influenzae vaccine.
“There’s nothing more important than watching a horrible disease that damages children … nearly disappear,” Diekema said about the illness that can cause meningitis, epiglottis or sepsis.
Children who developed H flu typically came down with a fever, and nearly every child with a fever was treated by doctors as a potential H flu case.
Diekema recalled an instance early in his time at Children’s, which he calls the “most memorable” and, to some degree, the “most terrifying” in his 30-year career. He was called to Oak Harbor to transport a child with H-flu-caused epiglottis — it resulted in a blocked airway. The 4-year-old child couldn’t breathe.
To save the child’s life, an emergency room doctor cut a hole in the neck to bypass the blockage.
“Then, I had a terrifying 30-minute flight on a helicopter having difficulty getting air into his lungs the entire way,” Diekema said.
The child safely made it to Children’s from Whidbey Island, but many others don’t, he said.
“The measles causes different sorts of problems, but this is an example of how powerful vaccinations can be at eliminating or getting close to getting rid of these horrible diseases of childhood,” Diekema said.
We vaccinate young children for a reason, he said — they’re most at risk for measles and other diseases preventable by vaccines.
Rep. Monica Stonier, of Clark County, said she supports a bill requiring vaccination, with or without an outbreak.
“The impacts it’s had on schools and public health workers, makes it a more urgent issue now,” she said. “It does warrant our narrow focus on the measles outbreak.”
In 2015, a vaccine bill sponsored by Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, and supported by Gov. Inslee, failed to leave the House. It called for the removal of personal or philosophical exemptions from vaccines in the state, and came after a measles outbreak at Disneyland in California that affected more than 90 people across eight states.
This new bill would focus on exemptions related to the MMR vaccine.