TARGET 8: How worried should parents be about the unvaccinated?
COLUMBIA - Have you ever wondered how many of the children sitting in class with your kids are vaccinated? In the same respect, if your child is already vaccinated, does it even matter if other kids are not?
According to the Department of Health and Senior Services, in Boone County, 98.3 percent of all students grades K-12 have received all of their vaccinations. In Cooper and Cole counties, the percentage is higher - 98.9 percent. But, what about babies?
An outbreak of measles, which started at Disneyland, dominated the news cycle at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. The disease had been relatively dormant for years. In a way, the outbreak took doctors by surprise. So, what is a reasonable level of fear for parents, especially parents of vaccinated children?
Dr. Thomas Selva, chief of the division of general pediatrics for University of Missouri Health Care, said, "It can go anywhere from no symptoms at all to, if you're unlucky enough to be the child who didn't get good protection, you could catch measles, but your risk is very, very low. And, in between are what we call ‘incomplete cases.' Sometimes you see these incomplete cases and they're not even recognizable because they look like any other viral illness."
But, babies who haven't received all of the rounds of vaccinations are a different story. When young children haven't completed the vaccine series, they are not completely protected.
"They've got pretty good protection, but you kinda seal the deal by finishing the entire series of vaccines," Selva said. "As an adult, many of these diseases are not fun. Whooping cough is an example. Whooping cough won't kill the average healthy adult or 16-year-old, but it can kill a 6-week-old."
State Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, is the sponsor of House Bill 976, which is currently making its way through the legislature. It would, in part, allow parents to find out if children in their child's nursery school, preschool or daycare are not vaccinated.
"The outbreak raised the awareness and day cares were unsure if they could disclose the information," Franklin said. "My desire was to make this as easy to do as possible, and to provide the information that the parent was requesting without any identification of who it may be."
If passed, the bill would not allow the schools to name the children who aren't vaccinated, just whether or not there are any. Then, parents can decide whether or not they want to pick a new place to send their babies.
The health policy organization Trust for America's Health did a study in 2013 about the immunization gap in Missouri, which is the percentage of children ages 19-35 months who have not received all of their shots. The gap was 29.9 percent.
"Parents have every right to know the environment that their babes are going into," Franklin said.
Gail Vasterling, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, wouldn't comment on pending legislation, but did say her department has long been a proponent of making sure all babies are immunized.
Missouri is currently opted into Hallmark's 20 year program called For America's Babies. Cards are sent to families saying "Every Missouri child is precious to us. Please remember that your baby needs to begin his or her shots by two months of age."
The cards are signed by Gov. and Mrs. Nixon, and, except for the cost to mail it, is completely funded by Hallmark. About 75,000 Missouri families received the cards last year.
"It's a great program," Vasterline said. "The cards are provided to the state free of charge. They convey good wishes to new parents and also include a detachable section so parents can use that to keep track of their child's immunization record."
Selva said he is well aware there's no way to vaccinate all children, but he believes in the herd effect.
"Every farmer knows you can't vaccinate the entire herd," he said, "but if you can get most of them, the disease will probably not get a hold on the herd. So, the human population is very much the same. we know we'll never immunize every individual on the face of the earth, but if we get a critical mass then the disease can't get a foothold."
UPDATE: On Monday, May 11, House Bill 976 was amended and combined with Senate Bill 341, which is an onmibus children's well being bill.
It passed and once the governor signs it, the law will go into effect on August 28th of this year.
[This post has been updated to reflect the most recent information available.]