Vaccines debated as lawmakers consider eliminating personal belief exemption

By | February 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

A House committee held a public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would end a parent’s ability to exempt a child from vaccines for personal or philosophical reasons.

Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, said she introduced House Bill 2009 in response to the recent measles outbreak. “These are diseases that were eradicated and are now coming back largely due to the fact that people are choosing to not immunize their children,” she said.

Children in Washington must be vaccinated for school unless they are exempted for medical, religious or personal reasons. Last year, 3.6 percent of school-age children were exempted from vaccinations for non-medical reasons.

Some Washington schools have exemption rates as high 40 percent, said Kathy Lofy of the state Dept. of Health. She worries those schools will serve as “tinderboxes” for diseases that are easily spread through crowds.

Kathy Hennessy of Bellingham said her child caught pertussis from an unvaccinated classmate in preschool. “I’m frustrated that so many people are choosing not vaccinate their children based on misinformation and pseudoscience,” she told legislators.

More than a dozen opponents testified Tuesday, asking lawmakers to keep the personal exemption in place.

Grant Keller said the people who oppose vaccinations are “not conspiracy theorists,” but often well-educated parents with high incomes. “They are capable of reading and digesting scientific information, and they are making informed decisions regarding the health of their children,” he said.

Other parents who testified say they are not immunizing their children because they worry about a negative reaction to the vaccine.

Josh Swenson said drug allergies and sensitivies run in his family, and he worries how vaccines could affect his children. “I’m not wiling to sacrifice my children’s health and future for the good of all,” he said.

If the bill passes, Swenson said his only choices would be to take his children out of public schools or move out of state. “You cannot force me to hurt my child,” he said.

Whooping cough epidemic ‘not quite over’ in Washington state

By | November 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Mary Selecky

I talked with Washington’s Secretary of Health, Mary Selecky, today about the whooping cough epidemic, the effectiveness of vaccines, and why the state was hit so hard. The full interview will air on this week’s edition of “The Impact.”

Selecky declared an epidemic in April as a record number of cases of whooping cough spread throughout the state.

Health officials recently announced the spread of the disease appears to be slowing, with some areas of the state returning to pre-epidemic levels. Washington state has already recorded more than 4,500 cases of whooping cough so far this year — the highest number of cases since the 1940s.

In a normal year, Selecky said the state would see about 10 cases a week. Now, the health department is recording between 20 to 30 cases a week. “So it’s not quite over,” Selecky said.

Selecky said there was no “singular cause” for the epidemic. Whooping cough outbreaks come in cycles every five to seven years, she said. “What we saw this year is that this bug was more virulent, or attacking more folks,” she said.

There’s also the problem of “undervaccinated” children who don’t get the full series of vaccine shots (all kids under the age of 5 have to get five shots), or children who aren’t vaccinated at all by their parents for philosophical reasons.

But there’s another reason: the vaccine may be wearing off too fast.

This summer, a team of federal scientists investigated the outbreak. They suspect that the current version of the whooping cough vaccine is weaker than the older version.

“The vaccine we’re using is very effective, but the question is how long does it last?” said Selecky.

An advisory committee is looking into whether another booster shot may be necessary to fill the gap. In the meantime, people should still get the vaccine because if they do catch whooping cough, the symptoms will be less severe if they’ve been vaccinated, Selecky said.

Here’s video of the interview with Selecky: