Washington bill would redefine ‘vaccine’ for state to purchase RSV immunization

A new bill in the state House of Representatives would redefine the state’s legal definition of ‘vaccine’ to allow the WVA to purchase bulk supplies of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus immunization.
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A new bill in the state House of Representatives would redefine the state’s legal definition of ‘vaccine’ to allow the WVA to purchase bulk supplies of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus immunization

TJ Martinell
The Center Square Washington

The Washington Vaccine Association is a nonprofit created in 2019 by the state Legislature that purchases bulk vaccines for the state Department of Health, which then provides free vaccines for residents 19 or younger.

A new bill in the state House of Representatives would redefine the state’s legal definition of “vaccine” to allow the WVA to purchase bulk supplies of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus immunization, which does not meet the state’s definition. 

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris at the request of the Department of Health, House Bill 2157 would removes the following from the state’s definition of a vaccine: “A preparation of killed or attenuated living microorganisms, or fraction thereof, that upon administration stimulates immunity that protects against disease and is an immunization.”

If passed, the new definition of a vaccine would be “broadened to include any immunization approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective and recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for administration to children under the age of 19,” according to the bill report.

Speaking prior to a Jan. 19 vote in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee that this revised definition would apply only to WVA’s purchasing authority, Harris explained, “In no way do they have any authority to mandate.”

He said the bill was necessary because the new RSV “vaccine” is “not a vaccination for children. It is an immunization, so they [WVA] needed to change the definition within their group so they could purchase this.”

Also speaking in favor of the bill was State Board of Health Executive Director Michelle Davis, who told the committee at a Jan. 12 public hearing that it would be a “critical technical fix that keeps state law up to date” and “Assure that vaccines remain accessible and affordable for families that choose to vaccinate their children. This bill is not a vaccine mandate.”

WVA Chair John Dunn said the bill would remove an “old and outdated definition of the term ‘vaccine’” and bring it into “alignment with definition currently used in the practice of medicine. It’s simple and it relates only to funding, not in any way to vaccine policy.”

Opponents argued that the legal definition change could result in a slippery slope in which immunizations not currently considered vaccines could be mandated for public school children or create confusion between legal and medical definitions.

Among the critics was Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, who voted against the bill during the Jan. 19 vote. She told colleagues that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 immunization mandates that “definitely led to some problems with us not really knowing some of the information that we needed to,” adding that the bill could make a similar situation happen again.

“The COVID vaccine was definitely not one that was recognized as a regular vaccine the way that it was defined,” she said.

Also opposed was Julie Barrett with the Conservative Ladies of Washington, who said at the Jan. 12 public hearing that “redefining fundamental terms such as vaccine will likely have far reaching implications that could compromise public understanding, medical clarity, and the integrity of public health efforts.”

HB 2157 has not yet been assigned to another committee.

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.


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