More than half the children who attend Munchkin Land Daycare near Billings, Montana, have special needs or compromised immune systems. The kids, who range in age from 4 months to 9 years, have conditions that include fetal alcohol syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and Down syndrome, according to owner Sheryl Hutzenbiler.
“These families came to me knowing we could offer them a safe and healthy environment,” Hutzenbiler said. Part of ensuring that healthy environment is having a strong vaccination policy, she said, especially for those who are immunocompromised or too young to receive the full slate of childhood vaccines.
So, when officials at Montana’s health department revived a proposal that would allow people to claim religious exemptions from immunization requirements at child care facilities, Hutzenbiler was both dismayed and relieved. Dismayed, because allowing more children to claim exemptions could compromise the community immunity levels necessary to defend against highly infectious diseases like measles and pertussis. Relieved, because as she scoured the proposed regulations, she found that her facility, which is licensed to care for up to 15 children, would be in a category of smaller providers that could choose whether to enroll unvaccinated kids.
“If it came down to where I had to, I had no choice, I would stop enrolling children today,” Hutzenbiler said. “In five years, I …