Mississippi House attempts to dismantle state immunization law

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 11, 2016

Oh, the irony! Just a week and a half ago, Mississippi’s very own State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier was honored by the American Medical Association for outstanding service in protecting the public’s health. The national physicians association recognized Dr. Currier’s work with Mississippi’s strong state law requiring immunizations for school attendance.
Less than one week later, Mississippi legislators took to the House floor to denounce the current law as requiring “bureaucracy to come between a family and their physician.” Buttressed by raw emotion and testimonials, the House voted by 65 to 54, mainly along party lines, to decimate the state’s main bulwark against communicable childhood diseases like measles, whooping cough, and polio.
The bill passed by the House, HB 938, would allow any physician anywhere in the nation to write a exemption for a child they examined to attend school without immunizations. The exemption then must be accepted by the school, meaning the child without all or part of their vaccinations must be enrolled.
Current law and procedure requires that only a Mississippi physician who regularly cares for the child, often a pediatrician, may request an exemption from vaccination requirements for a medical reason. That request then goes to the Health Department, both so that the Health Department can verify the request for exemption and so the Health Department has a record of where those non-immunized children go to school in case of a disease outbreak. Last year, 155 out of 156 requests for medical exemptions were granted. The one denied was simply incomplete.
Since the Health Department is also charged with monitoring and preventing disease outbreaks, they need to know where non-immunized children attend school so they can prevent school-wide outbreaks like those seen last year in California. In fact, after the Disneyland linked measles outbreak in California, that state changed its law to look like Mississippi’s.
The debate in the House tried to portray Mississippi’s medical community as divided over the issue of making it easier to exempt children from vaccination requirements. In fact, the entire state medical community as well as the March of Dimes supports current state requirements and procedures for exemption from vaccinations. As Mississippi Medical Association President Dr. Daniel P. Edney put it, “The Mississippi law is a model law that is recognized nationally as the strongest and best immunization law in America.”
See part 2 in next Friday’s Item

Lynn Evans is a past Jackson School Board Member and a contributing columnist to the Clarion Ledger.

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