Washington divided as new vax legislation takes effect

Victoria Hall, Staff Writer


Washington made a difficult decision this year after 1,241 measles cases broke out across 31 states. Washington policy became a topic of national news since Washington was one of 17 states to allow philosophical and personal exemptions for the MMR vaccine. The state legislature responded quickly, passing a bill that removed those exemption options for children entering the school or daycare system. This sparked strong reactions from the anti-vax community; an estimated 700 people attended a public hearing in Olympia in early February to protest. 

Aggression around the anti-vax community came under national spotlight. An opinion article headlined: “Anti-vaxxers are dangerous. Make them face isolation, fines, and arrests”, was published by the Washington Post on April 30, 2019. Shortly afterward, several agencies, including CBS News, The Guardian, and Fox News reported a situation where an anti-vaxxer assaulted a California state senator. Although the new law came into effect on July 28, 2019, a divide still exists between the anti-vax and pro-vax sides of this debate.

Some consider this legislation an infringement of rights. Jennifer, a concerned Olympia mother who disagrees with the new law, said in an interview, 

“A parent should have one hundred percent authority over their child’s healthcare. I may not agree with their choices, such as rejecting blood transfusions or raising kids vegan based on religion or morals, but it’s their choice and their child. States have forced children to receive chemo-therapy, even after they are in remission. That is completely overstepping their role.” 

She worries this law will set precedence for future, more extreme ones. 

“This bill only removes the philosophical exemption from MMR, but opens the door for bills to remove them from all vaccines, then religious exemptions, then medical like we’ve seen in California…this is a huge infringement on parental rights and will only get worse… it will slide into making all child vaccinations mandatory, including any vaccines currently being developed, eventually making adult vaccines mandatory.” 

She questions the scientific basis for the new legislation. 

“You can’t spread a disease you don’t have. Vaccines do not offer lifetime immunity and many don’t prevent contraction or transmission of the disease. They merely lessen the symptoms. That, in my opinion, is the threat to public health. In every outbreak we have seen recently the majority have been vaccinated.” 

Her report conflicts with an article by USA Today stating that out of 34 cases of measles recorded in Clarke County, 30 of the infected were not vaccinated. 

Ernesto Chavez, J.D., Legal Studies and Philosophy professor at Saint Martin’s University explains how disconnects like this occur. 

“Mainstream news as well as YouTube news tends to exaggerate and can poison the well with misinformation. We need to get off of the internet. As citizens we need to have real, face to face conversations with other citizens.” 

When asked about how to have these conversations, he says 

“Both sides need to be fully informed. You can’t have a dialogue without that. Don’t accept information that is trending without verifying that it has been peer reviewed or scientifically established. Don’t just follow a movement. Read books. That goes for both sides. It’s unfair to approach legislature and ask for something that will affect society, and not be informed.”

Chavez offers a model for navigating conflicts of safety and freedom. 

“An ethical issue underlies the legal issue. Ethical issues are always situational. Think of a sliding scale. On one hand there is [an] individual interest, and on the other there is society at large. The scale moves based on how much danger the interests of one side faces compared to the other. The science is certain in this situation, and the scale is tipped well in favor of societal good.” 

To better understand societal good, Chavez recommends asking, 

“How can I keep an open mind to my interests and the interests of others? Because it takes more than one unit to make a society work.”

Others see the law as another school rule. Russell Handy, human rights attorney, explains, 

“It’s completely different when it comes to public schools. Principals can search students’ lockers. That would violate the fourth amendment right, but not in a school district. If you wear a shirt with swear words on it, you’d be justifiably expelled. Rights are necessarily limited when it comes to public schools. It’s a reasonable rule, and a choice. Parents should be able to remove their children without harassment.” 

All ten of his children are vaccinated, but he believes in the right to choose, 

“You have to let things be. The nature of freedom is that people do stupid things. They do things that are cringeworthy. They do things that we wouldn’t do. Having more individual liberties means people will suffer deprivation and loss, but it also means that people will rise to great heights and do great things.”

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