Parents who refuse to get their preschool children immunized against polio, whooping cough, measles, diphtheria and other deadly diseases should be forced to consult with a physician on the advantages and disadvantages of immunizations.
Senate Bill 5005 would do just that – forcing an immunization consultation before their child enrolls in school.
The measure passed the Senate on a vote of 35-11.
House members added a number of amendments, then passed it back to the Senate on a vote of 66-29. There is clearly enough bipartisan support to push this legislation to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s desk for her signature into law.
Before the first day of school, students at Washington’s public and private schools and children attending licensed day care must provide proof of immunization against 11 vaccine-preventable diseases.
However, a parent or guardian may exempt a child for one of several reasons including if a physician advises against a specific vaccine for a child. To opt out, parents sign a form saying immunization conflicts with their religious beliefs, or that they have philosophical or personal objections to the child’s immunization.
The staff workup on the legislation shows that nearly all states allow medical and religious exemptions from their school immunization requirements.
And according to a 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 20 states allow exemptions based on philosophical or personal objections.
That’s not enough.
SB 5005 requires that parents who want to exempt their child from school immunization requirements sign and submit a form to the school district. The form must cite either medical, religious, or personal objections and must include a statement, signed by a health care practitioner, that the parent or guardian has been informed of the benefits and risks of the immunization to the child. The medical provider can be a licensed physician, naturopath, physician assistant, or advanced registered nurse practitioner.
The House added four amendments.
• Providing liability protection for health care practitioners who sign the immunization forms.
• Allowing practitioners to sign forms at any time before the child is enrolled in school or day care.
• Allowing photocopies of the signed form.
• Parents who seek a waiver because of religious beliefs are not required to have the form signed by a health care practitioner if they belong to a church with teachings that preclude a health professional from providing medical treatment to the child.
Those are reasonable accommodations.
Those who testified in support of the proposed legislation noted that this state has a higher rate of exemptions than the national average – putting an increased number of youngsters at risk for what can be deadly diseases. The latest report puts the immunization rate for Washington’s 19- to 35-month-olds at 73 percent, below the national average of 76 percent. Supporters of the legislation say allowing parents to opt out for practically any reason is to blame for the low immunization rate in this state.
Parental apathy is also a factor, as is the fact that some parents simply don’t carve out the time to get their child current on vaccines.
Supporters say that the change in law will lead to parents with more knowledge about the consequences of their actions.
Former Thurston County Assessor Ann Clifton, a member of the Mercury Awareness Team of Washington, testified that the vaccines will increase the heavy metals in the body, which is dangerous.
Clifton said parents shouldn’t have to go through more hoops to exempt their child from the required vaccinations.
There is nothing wrong with parents gaining additional information and counseling from health care professionals before making the decision whether to have their child immunized. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians have both urged passage of this legislation, as has Mary Selecky, secretary of the state Department of Health. They understand the risks associated with low immunization rates – both to children whose parents have made the decision for them and to other children in the classroom who for medical reasons can’t be immunized.
Washington can and must close the immunization gap and protect more children by passing Senate Bill 5005.