The vaccine bill passed the House Education Committee yesterday but was gutted and grants only medical waivers. The Washington *#&$ praised Mississippi for its mandatory (for schools) vaccine law:
|Credit: New Yorker|
It’s tough being a child in Mississippi. The state has the nation’s worst rates for infant mortality and low-weight newborns. Its childhood poverty rate ranks as the nation’s second worst. Overall, the residents of Mississippi are the unhealthiest in the country.
But there is one notable exception to these dour health stats: Mississippi has the highest vaccination rate for school-age children. It’s not even close. Last year, 99.7 percent of the state’s kindergartners were fully vaccinated. Just 140 students in Mississippi entered school without all of their required shots.
Compare that with California, epicenter of the ongoing Disney measles outbreak, where last year almost 8 percent of kindergartners — totaling 41,000 children — failed to get the required immunizations against mumps, measles and rubella. In Oregon, that number was 6.8 percent. In Pennsylvania, it was nearly 15 percent, or 22,700 kindergartners. And each of these states has suffered measles outbreaks in the last two years....
Daniel Salmon, associate professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-authored a study that found states offering personal belief exemptions had higher rates of whooping cough — a vaccine-preventable disease. A similar effect was seen in states that made those exemptions easy to obtain.
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But, Salmon said, he doesn’t oppose all nonmedical exemptions. The exemptions just needed to be narrow, and parents should be educated about the risks of not vaccinating.
“This is a balancing act,” Salmon said. “There are important policy implications [to allowing parents to make decisions about their children’s health]. But it shouldn’t be easy — the path of least resistance.”....
In the early 1970s, the CDC found that states with school vaccine mandates had about half the measles rate of states without the laws. By 1980, every state had a law on its books. But over the years, more and more states added exemptions.....
In 1979, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote a strongly worded defense of the state program, “Is it mandated by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that innocent children, too young to decide for themselves, are to be denied the protection against crippling and death that immunization provides because of a religious belief adhered to by a parent or parents?”
The push to change the law has heated up in recent years, led by a group called Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights. State lawmakers now are considering a bill carving out personal belief exemptions to the state vaccination law. While similar bills in previous years stalled in a state legislature health committee, this year’s initiative is being considered by a state education committee. And public health officials are watching this with alarm.
“We’re hopeful,” said Mary Jo Perry, co-director of the vaccine rights group. “I think what we’re asking is reasonable.”
Perry, who lives outside Jackson, Miss., is not the stereotypical anti-vaccine activist. All three of her children are completely immunized. But her youngest child suffered seizures after a whooping cough vaccine when he was young. She wished she could have delayed or skipped the shot.
In other states, she might have had that right.
“I think Mississippi has been exploited by its reputation for ignorance,” she said.
But Currier, who runs the state health department, said the lack of exemptions is important. Mississippi faces enough health challenges without worrying about measles or whooping cough....
To prove the point, West Virginia health officials love to pull out a chart. It’s a Council on Foreign Relations map showing several years of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. The outbreaks are listed as colored dots — brown for measles, green for whooping cough and so on.
The face of the United States looks like it’s suffering from a severe case of chicken pox. But the complexions of Mississippi and West Virginia are clear. The colored dots stop at the states’ borders. Gupta pointed out that a measles epidemic last year in Columbus, Ohio, which infected 377 people not far from West Virginia, never made it into the Mountaineer state.
“Immunizations work,” Gupta said. “It’s not rocket science.” Rest of article