PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the number of measles cases in Clark County continues to climb — as of Friday, 53 confirmed cases and 7 more suspected — Washington lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would eliminate the “personal exemption” that currently allows students to go to school without the measles vaccine.

Washington and Oregon are among 18 states that let parents opt-out their child for personal or philosophical reasons.

The proposed bill in Washington state, specifically for the measles vaccine, would still allow medical and religious exemptions. But it would remove a parent’s ability to claim a personal objection.

House Bill 1638 is sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver. The vast majority of measles cases in the region are in unvaccinated children. On Friday, there was a hearing on the bill before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Medical experts stressed the vaccine is safe and effective. Supporters say the effort to limit exemptions is about safe schools and protecting children and adults.

People opposed to vaccinations for children protest outside the state capitol in Olympia, Washington, February 8, 2019 (Courtesy to KOIN)

“I believe it’s very important to have people vaccinated,” said Harris, a Republican. “Especially for those that are especially vulnerable and can’t be vaccinated, who have difficulties in their lives, who have had transplants. The most vulnerable, truly, we need to protect.”

Harris also said he hopes to also “tighten up” the religious exemption to make sure that those claiming a religious exemption have a “bona fide” belief.

Those opposed to limiting exemptions protested outside the hearing, including some who question the vaccine safety standards. Others worry about their children having an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

A doctor at the hearing on Friday described the measles vaccine as “incredibly safe.”

On Thursday, Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown said the Oregon Legislature will likely look at ways to tighten the state’s vaccination rules, as well.

Oregon State Rep. Mitch Greenlick is having a bill prepared that would eliminate all exemptions for vaccines, except for the medical exemption.  He hopes it will be drafted in the coming weeks. 

KOIN 6 News learned so far there were 6156 exclusion order letters sent to parents who need to provide updated immunization information to their child’s school or childcare facility in three counties: Clackamas (1768), Washington (2804) and Marion (1588).

Measles information: 

Measles is a highly contagious virus spread through the air. It can linger in a room up to two hours after someone with the virus has been there and you can catch it even before the sick person develops a rash. 

The virus starts with a fever and can also cause a runny nose, cough, red eyes, ear infection, diarrhea and a rash of tiny red spots starting at the head and then spreading. It is especially dangerous for babies and young children. 

The CDC said almost everyone who has not been vaccinated will get the virus if they are exposed.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this issue.