JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri children could be required to be vaccinated against chickenpox before starting school under a rule proposed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The state already requires children in a day-care center to have the vaccine. The proposed change would require all children entering kindergarten in fall 2005 and thereafter to receive the vaccine. "It is not the very mild disease that most people think," said Marilyn Kemna, a health program representative with the department. "We do have a lot of adverse consequences after the disease, and so it's imperative that we protect the children from those conditions."
Dr. Sarah Gordon, a pediatrician with Jefferson City Medical Group, called the move "a great idea."
"Of all the diseases we routinely immunize against, I think people don't realize how dangerous chicken pox can be," said Gordon, adding that chicken pox is the leading cause of death among all vaccine-preventable diseases.
Critics of the policy worry that when the vaccine is administered to a child, it will wear off by adulthood. But Kemna said she considered that "very unlikely."
"We do understand that the vaccine is probably long lasting, and so we're hoping that that continues to wear into adulthood," Kemna said.
Children could be exempted from the vaccine requirement for a handful of reasons. If a child had already contracted chicken pox, the vaccine would not be necessary, Kemna said. Parents would be able to sign a document exempting their child from the vaccine for religious reasons. Or a physician could sign a statement indicating that the vaccine would endanger the child's health -- perhaps in the case of an allergy or other underlying medical condition.
Between 60,000 to 70,000 children attend kindergarten in Missouri each year, Kemna said. But many of them already have the vaccine, since more than 100,000 attend day care annually, she said.
Under the Vaccines for Children program, the state offers the vaccines free for children who are Medicaid patients or don't have insurance.
The proposed rule change is currently under review by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. If the committee approves the rule as scheduled, it should go into effect in late April or early May.
On the Net:
Department of Health and Senior Services: http://www.dhss.state.mo.us