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Missouri lawmakers consider bill to relax immunization rules

March 9, 2021 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri lawmaker is proposing that the state relax requirements for immunizations, which medical associations contend would make it more difficult to slow the spread of viruses such a COVID-19.

A Missouri House committee debated a proposal Tuesday from Republican Rep. Suzie Pollock, of Lebanon. It would make immunization requirements apply only to public school students.

The bill also would allow students to attend school if they can show evidence of acquired immunity from a disease, and would make it easier for Missourians to exempt themselves and their families from immunizations, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

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“We need to rein in our schools and our health departments,” Pollock said.

The debate comes as Missouri ramps up efforts to vaccinate residents against COVID-19.

State health officials said Tuesday more than 150,000 people have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is about 16.8% of state’s population. Of those, 549,485 have received two doses.

Garrett Webb, representing the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee the bill would hamper efforts to contain deadly diseases. The Missouri State Medical Association also opposes the measure.

But Pollock said an estimated 500 people submitted written testimony supporting the proposal. Proponents believe people should be able to choose whether to receive an immunization and should not be punished if they don’t.

Pollock, who is a cardiovascular invasive specialist, introduced a similar proposal last year but it did not advance after the Legislature was interrupted by the pandemic.

The proposal needs a vote in the committee in order to advance to the full House for further action.

The increased vaccination and falling number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is leading to a loosening or business and school restrictions imposed since the pandemic began. On Monday, the Columbia School Board voted to send students in the schools back to full time in-person classes starting April 5.

The vote came after Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said Stephanie Browning, director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, told him she wasn’t concerned about a new surge in COVID-19 cases if students returned, because it didn’t occur at the University of Missouri when students returned in January, The Columbia Tribune reported.

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Missouri reported 332 more confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total since the pandemic began to 481,245. Another 134 deaths were added but 130 of those were counted during a weekly examination of death certificates that had not already been reported to the state. Of the 130, there was one new death in both October and November, four in December, 35 in January, 88 in February and one in March. Missouri has recorded 8,295 deaths since the pandemic began.