Missouri children attending daycares, K-12 public schools, or public higher education schools might not be required to get vaccinated against certain illnesses – if they have a “conscientious belief” opposing the immunizations. State Representative Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, is proposing the change for vaccinations against polio, rubella, rubeola, mumps, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, and hepatitis B.

Current state law allows student vaccination exemptions for religious and medical reasons.

Her bill would also mean the state’s roughly 120,000 K-12 private, parochial, and parish school students would not have to get those vaccinations.

Missouri Capitol (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

Pollock says the state needs to reign in schools and local health departments.

“They require forms. Some schools and health departments require that the form be put on card stock or have a certain seal, or that they have to make an appointment with a nurse and watch a video. The difficulties just keep mounting and they make it more and more difficult every day,” Pollock says.

The legislation would only require the meningitis vaccination for Missouri college students living in publicly owned housing.

During a House committee hearing, Pollock, a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist, says more than 72 vaccination doses are required of students by the time they are 18, but most in the first four years.

“In 1982, there were 24 doses. And today, there are over 72 doses. There are no studies that they (vaccinations) are making them better,” says Pollock.

Linda Neumann, with the Missouri Association of School Nurses, says 31 doses are required before age 18 – not 72. She tells Missourinet the bill would weaken the state’s immunization requirements for kids at a time when other states are strengthening theirs.

“We believe that childhood immunizations are safe and effective. This is a real pivotal time for us. I hate to see us loosen our requirements,” she says. “Children in – it doesn’t matter what their setting is – whether it’s public, private, or parochial, they all deserve to live healthier and be free of communicable diseases. We have seen what’s happened with COVID-19 and what can happen with a communicable disease.”

Another example she points to is the measles.

“It’s extremely contagious and can lead to all kinds of things that you don’t want like blindness or brain damage, which is possible from the very high fevers. But thanks to the measles vaccine, we went from four million cases annually to in the year 2000, we were declared measles free in our country. But unfortunately the decline in the vaccination rate has led to a return to a measles outbreak,” she says. “In 2019, we had 1,282 cases, I believe, in the United States.”

Neumann cites a study saying about 40% of parents against vaccinations oppose them for philosophical reasons and another 60% oppose them due to inconvenience. She says there has been a huge effort, especially in Missouri, to increase access to students whose parents might not have the means to get their children to an immunization appointment.

“There are schools that have immunization vans come out during the summer to help run kids through before school starts,” says Neumann. “We’re doing everything we can to make it easier on parents, but we need parents’ help too. We understand that there are truly religious exemptions, but we also understand that not having your child immunized just because it’s an inconvenience leads to a bigger population that’s not immunized and we start losing herd immunity. We know that herd immunity works.”

Pollock calls the legislation a freedom bill.

“It separates and weakens government overreach into our private schools, businesses, and property,” says Pollock.

Neumann says she understands that people have rights and liberties.

“But we all have those rights and liberties. We have a right to feel protected from communicable diseases when we have vaccine to prevent these things,” says Neumann.

The Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee has voted 10-6 in favor of the bill. The House Rules Committee is considering Pollock’s measure.

To view House Bill 37, click here.

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