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The Montana House of Representatives

The Montana House of Representatives during the 66th legislative session.

The Montana House on Thursday defeated a trio of bills that would have loosened state vaccine laws.

The debate hits Montana as nearby Washington state has an active measles outbreak, and at least eight cases of mumps have been reported in Bozeman in the last few months. There are vaccines to prevent both diseases.

In Washington, lawmakers are considering tightening regulations around when parents can object to vaccinating children who are in school. A handful of other states have looked at restricting religious exemptions.

Montana ranks about the middle of the road for vaccination coverage among children enrolled in kindergarten, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. About 93.2 percent of children that age are vaccinated. Mississippi reaches 99.4 percent, while Colorado sits at 88.7 percent and the District of Columbia is 81.3 percent.

House Bill 575, carried by Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, was voted down 32-68. The bill would have eliminated virtually all childhood immunization requirements in day care centers to allow enrollment of children whose parents have religious exemptions to vaccines.

Rules written by the state health department said day cares must get documentation from parents or guardians that a child has received the basic childhood series of immunizations.

If the bill was passed, it would have made Montana the only state in the nation to not require at least basic childhood vaccines in day cares.

The House also voted down, 40-60, another bill carried by Manzella, House Bill 574. The bill would have stopped the health department from prohibiting foster families from taking in children if one of their own children is not vaccinated because of a religious exemption. Medical exemptions are allowed in that situation.

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In speaking on her bills, Manzella told members of the House there's a near-record high number of children who need foster homes, and that there shouldn't be a provision that prevents families from taking in children because of religious exemptions to vaccines.

Manzella also laid out reasons for religious exemptions to vaccines, something people who spoke in support of the bills earlier in the week highlighted.

She gave lawmakers a list of ingredients in vaccines, saying "I'm really having a tough time believing that I'm standing here on the House floor in the great state of Montana reporting to you that the cells of aborted babies are in our vaccines. The cells of aborted babies. You wouldn't know that unless you knew what human-diploid fibroblast cell cultures are, but that's what it is. The cells of aborted babies' female lungs. If that's not enough to earn a religious exemption, I don't know what is," Manzella said.

The History of Vaccines, which is a project of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, says that vaccines do not have aborted fetal tissue. The rubella vaccine, which is a part of the MMR series of shots, is cultured using human cell lines, but is separated from the cells in which it is grown before being used. Some cell lines are from fetal tissues obtained through legal abortions in the 1960s. "No new fetal tissue is required to generate rubella vaccine," the project's website reads.

A bill carried by Rep. David Dunn, R-Kalispell, was defeated on a 38-62 vote. House Bill 564 would have forbidden the health department from helping schools that seek assistance in reviewing the validity of claims for exemptions. It would also let physician assistants and some nurses sign medical exemption forms. 

Dunn said too many children suffer injuries from vaccines, citing $4 billion in payouts from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program as showing there have been large amounts of vaccine-injured children.

"The medical industrial complex has failed to protect our nation's children, and parents and popular culture bully people who disagree on the topic, screaming 'science' while they repeat cliche propaganda," Dunn said. 

According to that program, there have been more than 20,332 petitions filed since 1988. In that 30-year stretch, 6,358 of those resulted in compensation.

The program also said that awarding compensation "does not necessarily mean that the vaccine caused the alleged injury," saying 80 percent of all compensation is from settlements where there's been no conclusion, after a review of evidence, that a vaccine caused the alleged injury. The program also pays attorney fees when claims are brought, even if no injury is found.

Lawmakers who spoke in opposition said un-vaccinated children put at risk those who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or have other medical complications.

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