SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As Springfield Public School students head back tomorrow morning, some may have recently gotten their vaccinations. New research finds more kids, though, are opting out.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, all K-12 public, private, and parish school students must be up to date with vaccines, with room for a couple exceptions.
The Missouri statute says: “This section shall not apply to any child if one parent or guardian objects in writing to his school administrator against the immunization of the child, because of religious beliefs or medical contraindications. In cases where any such objection is for reasons of medical contraindications, a statement from a duly licensed physician must also be provided to the school administrator.”
It’s the non-medical exemptions that a recent study is focusing on. An analysis published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that it’s resulting in 15 metro areas with clusters of high vaccination exemption rates for non-medical reasons, what it calls unvaccinated “hot spots.” While there are several in Texas, Utah, Washington, and Michigan, Kansas City also makes the list in Missouri.
Kendra Findley oversees community health and epidemiology with the Greene County Health Department, and says its stance on vaccination is firm, though she understands the difficulty of making that decision.
“Being a parent is hard. You have to make the best decision that you can, most informed decision for your child,” Findley said. “And so for some parents, they feel like the risk is probably higher to get them vaccinated than it is for the possibility of them getting the disease. In public health, we see that differently. We feel like the risk of the disease is higher than it is for the vaccine, and again we’re looking at it from a community level, not from an individual level.”
Findley adds that, depending on the disease, 75 to 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated to maintain herd immunity. In Greene County there are reportedly 2.1 to 3% of kids unvaccinated for non-medical reasons, according to the 2016-2017 map from PLOS Medicine. Though nearby Taney, Wright, Cedar and Vernon counties make the top threshold with up to 30% of kids unvaccinated.
In addition to medical and religious vaccination exemptions, currently 18 states in the U.S. say it’s okay to forego vaccinations for philosophical beliefs as well.