Low vaccination numbers leave Missouri's children vulnerable, experts warn

Missouri has fallen woefully behind the rest of the nation in vaccinating preschool children, which health experts say leaves the state’s children vulnerable to a resurgence of infectious diseases.

Just 56.2 percent of Missouri children 19 to 35 months old received all their recommended shots last year, according to new survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That compares with a national rate of 70.5 percent. The highest level of full vaccination coverage — 78.1 percent — was in Missouri’s neighbor to the north, Iowa. The rate in Kansas, 71.7 percent, was statistically similar to the U.S. figure.

As recently as 2006, 80.6 percent of young children in Missouri had received all their shots. Since then, vaccination coverage has plummeted.

Experts cite these possible explanations for the decline: poorly funded public health programs, outdated state regulations and a growing number of parents reluctant to have their children vaccinated.

“It’s pretty obvious we’ve been sliding the last four years,” said Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department. “We could easily see an outbreak of measles or pertussis, any of these infectious diseases.”

Vaccinations protect more than the individuals getting the shots, Archer said.

When the overwhelming majority of people are vaccinated against a disease, it creates “herd immunity” that keeps the disease from spreading to people with weakened immune systems or to infants and others who haven’t received the vaccine.

“We’re getting to the point where we don’t have the herd immunity to keep outbreaks from happening,” Archer said.

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