Arizona House Panel Votes to Expand Vaccine Exemptions Amid Ongoing Measles Outbreak

Photo: Elaine Thompson (AP)

As the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest continues to worsen, an Arizona House panel has approved multiple bills to expand vaccine exemptions in the state, the Arizona Republic reported Friday.

The paper reported the state House Health and Human Services Committee approved three bills with 5-4 votes and support from Republican lawmakers. Representative Nancy Barto, who sponsored the bills, claimed that the bills aim to “strike that balance” between arguments on “both sides” and that vaccinations are “not a one size fits all option for every child.” The aims of the bills include expanded exemptions for religious reasons as well as axing a requirement that parents or guardians sign a document in order to opt out of vaccinations.

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But health officials have warned of the potential dangers of allowing further exemptions in the state. Bob England, former director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, told the Arizona Republic in a separate report published Saturday that an outbreak in the Phoenix area could result in a devastating public health issue:

“We don’t have the lowest immunization rates or the highest exemption rates in the country. But we’re so big that if you get an outbreak here — let’s say a case of measles drops into one of those schools with a really low (vaccination) rate — and you get several new cases of measles right away,” England said.

“We’re big enough and our population moves around enough that there’s just a really high chance, I think, that you’d get enough cases from those initial ones to make for a really widespread, ongoing outbreak.”

Meanwhile, the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that hit Oregon and Washington at the start of the year has worsened. The Washington State Department of Health reported this week that 66 cases of measles have been confirmed, with one in King County and 65 in Clark County where the outbreak is concentrated. The Oregonian reported Sunday that as many as five cases have been confirmed in its state.

Clark County Public Health noted that 47 of the confirmed cases in the area were in children 10 years of age or younger. Of the 65 total cases in the county, 57 of those were in individuals who weren’t vaccinated, and two individuals only received one dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine rather than the recommended two.

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Washington state lawmakers recently advanced a bill to limit exemptions for vaccines for school-age children. The Health Care and Wellness Committee endorsed the bill 10-5 with support from Democrats and its sponsor Representative Paul Harris, who was the only Republican vote in favor of the bill.

[Arizona Republic]

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