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Washington Board of Health rejects petitions to restrict immunization, health officer authority,

Courtesy of the Federal Food and Drug Administration

The Washington State Board of Health has rejected several petitions that sought to strip power from local health officers and restrict vaccination requirements in schools.

Washington State’s Board of Health makes rules about public health policy. It members are appointed by the governor, and many have public health training.

Any citizen can petition the board to abolish or amend its rules. Wednesday, the board considered seven petitions. Most asked the Board of Health to reduce the authority of local health officers and give local health boards, usually led by elected officials, the power to veto officers’ decisions.

Petitioners argued health officer’s powers are unconstitutional are that their authority lacks checks and balances.

Board of Health Member Keith Grellner says Health Officers are the best equipped, and in the best position, to address public health emergencies.

“These are professionals who live this every day, do this every day,” he said, “there's no better person in my opinion to make those decisions."

He, and other board members argued local boards of health, which have firing and hiring power over health officers, are made up of non-public health experts often, and may be too slow to act.

The Board of Health also rejected a petition seeking to restrict COVID-19 vaccines, and potentially future immunizations, from being required in school.

Board member Elisabeth Crawford said she was concerned about hampering Washington’s ability to respond to emergencies.

“Biology unfortunately works much faster than bureaucracy” she said, “in this case, we could be held up with other things and not have adequate response to new biological agents that may be a threat to our community and our children.”

The board unanimously rejected the seven petitions. Three out of the seven petitions were from the Spokane area.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.