State Rep. Paul Harris R-Vancouver, center, talks to reporters, Feb. 8, 2019, following a public hearing at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on a bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a philosophical exemption to opt school-age children out
State Rep. Paul Harris R-Vancouver, center, talks to reporters, Feb. 8, 2019, following a public hearing at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on a bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a philosophical exemption to opt school-age children out

Lawmakers in the U.S. Northwestern state of Washington, which is battling a measles outbreak, are considering a bill that would prohibit parents from claiming a personal or philosophical exemption to their children receiving vaccinations.

Hundreds of people opposed to the bill lined up early Friday to attend a hearing in Olympia, the state capital, where lawmakers heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the proposed bill.

The measure came after health officials reported at least 52 known cases of the measles in the state and four cases in the neighboring state of Oregon.

Current law

Washington state law requires children to be vaccinated for nearly a dozen diseases, including measles, before they can attend schools or child care centers. However, exemptions are allowed for parents based on personal beliefs, including medical, religious and philosophical views.

The proposed bill would eliminate that personal exemption, meaning all children would have to be vaccinated for a range of diseases before enrolling in schools or child care facilities.

Robert Kennedy Jr., right, speaks at a rally held
Robert Kennedy Jr., right, speaks at a rally held in opposition to a proposed bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a philosophical exemption to opt their school-age children out of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, Feb. 8, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

The bill has the support of the state medical association as well as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared a state of emergency last month because of the measles outbreak. 

Opponents testifying against the bill Friday included environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has questioned vaccine safety standards.

The Associated Press cited state Department of Health records that showed 4 percent of Washington secondary school students had nonmedical vaccine exemptions. The records showed that 3.7 percent of those exemptions were personal, while the remainder were religious exemptions.

Arguments for, against

Proponents of eliminating the personal exemption argue that schools must be safe and protect vulnerable children. Opponents of the eliminating the exemption argue that the vaccines come with a medical risk and that therefore people must have a choice about whether to use them. 

Both California and Vermont have removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren.