JEFFERSON CITY - After a national report put Missouri at the bottom of the list for childhood immunization, state government has made immunization one of the top issues of the 1996 legislative session.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has ranked Missouri 49th in the nation for the percentage of children immunized for diseases.
That report prompted pending legislation designed to improve Missouri's immunization rate.
The proposal would require insurance companies to cover child immunization from birth to 36 months and would give parents power to others to authorize immunization of their children.
The Health Department estimates that with the passage of this law, 85 percent of Missouri's children will have complete immunization coverage.
Supporters of the legislation say by immunizing children now, it saves money in the future.
"Every dollar we spend on immunization, we save ten down the road," said Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City and a sponsor of the legislation.
The state Health Department estimates the requirement would raise insurance premiums one percent.
Insurance companies support the legislation, said Milt Svetanics of General America Life Insurance. He said the immunization is "a relatively low-cost item and we're not objecting to the legislation."
In testimony before the House Children Committee, Health Department Director Coleen Kivlahan said only 64 percent of Missouri's two-year olds have the immunization shots they need, 11 percent below the national average.
The department seeks to have 75 percent of two-year olds immunized by the end of this year and 90 percent by the end of 1997.
"Every local health department, that's 114 counties in Missouri, has a goal of raising immunization levels," Kivlahan said.
It takes 15 shots, with a minimum of five visits to a doctor, to protect children against the nine diseases which have vaccines.
Most school-aged children, 99 percent, have been immunized, according to the Health Department. But sponsors of the legislation say children under the age of two are at the highest risk.
"Now a days, most kids start their contact with society at an earlier age," said Rep. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis and a sponsor of the legislation. "It's when they're two, three, or four when they go to preschool."
The average cost for all 15 shots is $274 with an administrative fee of $5-10 per shot. That makes a total of $394 for all the shots.
Most parents would rather have their children immunized by their personal physician, instead of going to a county health clinic where it is free, Kivlahan said.
Gov. Mel Carnahan also supports the legislation and included it in his legislative agenda for the 1996 session.
"Immunization provides a proper tool for improving children's health," Carnahan said.
Kivlahan cited several reasons for Missouri's low immunization rate:
Other adults include a grandparent, stepparent, aunt or uncle, adult brother or sister, or day care provider.
There is some question as to whether this part of the legislation is necessary, because many parents currently use this procedure.
Dougherty, who is Chair of the Children, Youth, and Families Committee said an executive session of the committee would meet this week to review the existing law and to determine whether or not a change in law is necessary.
The committee will also meet this week to vote on whether or not the legislation should go to the House floor.
"We hope to have this done by the time we leave here on Thursday," Dougherty said.