This editorial was published by the Tri-City Herald of Kennewick.
Rep. Brad Klippert is muddying the efforts to vaccinate people against COVID-19 with a bill that is unnecessary and harmful to public health.
As currently written, House Bill 1006 should go nowhere during next year’s legislative session.
The Kennewick Republican is attempting to protect individual rights, but his legislation uses the COVID-19 vaccine to reignite the anti-vax movement in Washington state.
And that’s certainly not what we need right now.
Klippert’s bill would make sure employers and others cannot require people to take the COVID-19 shot if they don’t want it.
At first glance, the legislation appears to be a solution looking for a problem. Dig deeper, though, and another purpose behind the bill emerges.
Klippert wants to undo the important progress made in 2019 when state law was changed so parents no longer could use personal beliefs as a reason to send their children to school and day care without the MMR vaccine.
Exemptions to the MMR shot for medical and religious reasons still apply.
Lawmakers were right to try to curb the spread of measles, just like they are right to continue to try and curb the spread of COVID-19.
In the case of measles, the deadly disease was once under control. Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 because of a strong immunization program, but less than two decades later outbreaks began to pop up in several states — including Washington.
A measles outbreak concentrated in Clark County was declared a state emergency by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, spurring the need to tighten the MMR vaccine requirements.
The debate over vaccinations at the time was hot, with hundreds of anti-vax protesters converging in Olympia to oppose changes to vaccine exemptions.
But measles are serious. The disease is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune also will be infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also reports that measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children age 5 and younger, the elderly and people with weak immune systems. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die.
And measles is not always easy to detect. Infected people can spread measles to other people, from four days before getting the signature rash to four days after getting it, the CDC said.
It is a preventable disease that never should have made a comeback.
But people against the MMR vaccine have had their fears stoked by a decades-old report that vaccinations cause autism. The claim was proven false years ago, and the report’s author, British physician Andrew Wakefield, was discredited for unethical behavior.
But just try telling all this to anti-vax believers. They don’t buy it.
And now, Klippert wants to loosen the language that keeps measles cases from surging.
This is an irresponsible stance.
As for COVID-19, the vaccine is new and it is understandable if some people are skeptical about rolling up their sleeves and getting the shot.
But the vaccine is the best chance we have of slowing the spread of COVID-19. If we want to get back to our pre-shutdown days, the more people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus, the better.
Health officials, however, are not talking about forced COVID-10 immunizations.
Right now, they are focused on protecting as many vulnerable people as possible from a disease that as of last week has killed 228 people in the Mid-Columbia and 3,131 statewide. COVID-19 is exhausting our health care workers and putting our hospital intensive care unit departments at capacity.
And Klippert’s bill won’t help. It actually has the potential to do quite a bit of damage by politicizing the vaccine the way masks were politicized last summer.
Public safety measures should not be turned into a symbol of government overreach. That just adds to confusion and fears over a disease that health officials are desperately trying to contain.
And attempting to set us back on the MMR vaccine while we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is ludicrous. Klippert’s bill deserves no consideration.