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State lawmakers look to nix vaccine exemptions as U.S. fights measles outbreaks


Anti-vax hotspots hit with disease previously eradicated in the U.S.

Image source: CBS News YouTube screenshot

As health officials struggle to quash a re-emergence of measles outbreaks in the U.S., state lawmakers are pitching legislation that would prevent parents from opting out of having their children immunized.

What are the details?

There are 17 states in the U.S. that allow some type of non-medical exemption for measles inoculations due to personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Another 30 (plus the District of Columbia) allow religious exemptions. Only California, Mississippi and West Virginia prohibit patients from declining vaccination for non-medical reasons.

But a re-emergence of measles — which was previously eradicated from the U.S. — has state lawmakers across the country taking a look at whether objectors should be given such options.

At least 43 people in Oregon and Washington have been stricken with the disease in recent weeks, prompting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to declare a state of emergency. Both states were cited in a study last year as containing "hotspots" with high exemption rates, leaving them at risk for epidemics of infectious diseases.

The Associated Press reported that bipartisan legislation has been introduced by Washington state Reps. Paul Harris (R) and Monica Stonier (D) that would remove the personal exemption only for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Recognizing that previous attempts to ban exemptions have failed, Stonier told the AP, "right now we're looking at what we can get moved."

Anything else?

Other states are taking notice of the outbreak in the northeast, too, and examining their own hotspots. Some Democrats in New York's state Legislature are touting a bill that would ban all non-medical exemptions. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D) has introduced the measure for years without success, but the current outbreak in the northeast has given his bill more attention.

Dinowitz told the Democrat & Chronicle, "I think we should do everything possible to get as many people to vaccinate," adding "Because of this unfortunate outbreak, it's back on people's radar and people take it seriously."

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that "the vast majority of Utah's vaccine exemptions were for 'personal' reasons, rather than religious or medical reasons," and they're on the rise, according to the state's numbers.

Utah Department of Health immunization program manager Rich Lakin told the Tribune, "Across the country, we're seeing an increase in exemptions."

Lakin said he'd like to see the personal exemptions banned, but acknowledged it has been difficult for other states to pass such legislation.

The World Health Organization recently cited anti-vaccine campaigns as a top threat to global health in 2019.

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