There have been 127 cases of measles were confirmed in 10 states this year with outbreaks in Texas, Washington, and multiple jurisdictions in New York. The reported cases are centered primarily within communities where rates of children who are vaccinated against measles are below herd immunity (due to its high level of communicability, measles require a high rate of vaccination, between 95% to reach herd immunity).
There are many communities in Arizona and across the country where the rates are much lower than 95%. For example, in Clark County, Washington (where a recent measles outbreak originated) the percentage of kindergarteners who received a vaccine for measles fell from 96% in 2004 to 85% in 2017.
Every state has vaccination requirements for kids starting school, and all states also have medical exemptions. All but three states—California, Mississippi, and West Virginia—also allow non-medical exemptions (i.e., exemptions based on religious, philosophical, or personal beliefs).
Arizona currently has medical and religious exemptions for pre-school & medical and personal exemptions for public school attendance. HB 2070, which passed the House Health and Human Services Committee Thursday (5-4) would add a new religious exemption for public school.
Over the past 10 years, the number of non-medical exemptions has increased, especially in states that allow both religious and philosophical exemptions. Additionally, researchers have identified several areas in the US where large numbers of non-medical exemptions are granted, including in the Portland metro area, where Clark County, Washington, is located.
Some states are now beginning to do away with non-medical exemptions for school vaccination requirements.
In 2015, following an outbreak of measles at Disneyland, CA eliminated its non-medical exemptions (and immunization coverage recovered dramatically). In California, vaccination rates rebounded substantially after the personal exemption was eliminated. Vermont also eliminated its philosophical belief exemption in 2015 (but kept their religious exemption).
This year, a bill to remove the personal belief exemption for the MMR vaccine has passed the State of Washington’s House of Representatives (HB 1638). Many other states have also proposed eliminating non-medical exemptions, including Arizona (HB 2162 – which has not received a hearing), Iowa (HF 206), Maine (LD 798), Minnesota (SF 1520), and New York (S 2994 and A 2371).
Sadly, the bills that have received hearings in Arizona all work against improving our immunization rates, including HB 2470 Vaccination Religious Exemptions, HB 2471 Informed Consent, and HB 2472 Vaccinations- Antibody Titer. All 3 Bills received Pass Recommendations in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee this week (by a 5-4 margin). They will likely be up for floor votes this week in the AZ House.