|The Magnolia State has taken the meaning of steel magnolias to a new level due to its strict — some say controversial — laws regarding childhood vaccination, which may have prevented the recent measles outbreak from taking hold in the state.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreak, which began in Disneyland last month, has now affected at least 130 people and spread to 17 states and Washington, D.C. Mississippi, however, remains untouched.
“We understand a parent’s concern about medicine and vaccinations when it comes to their children, however there has been very little scientific evidence that proves vaccinations are more harmful than helpful for children,” explained Alison Hare, practice administrator at Doctors Express Englewood. “The risk a parent runs of choosing not to vaccinate a child is much greater than the possible outcome of something negative from vaccinating a child.”
Mississippi has the nation’s highest infant mortality rate, and the second highest level of childhood poverty. However, the state leads the nation in terms of having the highest childhood vaccination rates.
In 2014, 99.7% of kindergartners in Mississippi were considered “fully vaccinated” — compared to just 85% in Pennsylvania and 92% in California, the origin of the measles outbreak.
“I’m grateful, really grateful that we haven’t had any (cases of the measles) and, I’m hoping that it can continue,” said Vickie Kendrick, a mom who was at a local urgent care clinic.
Decades ago, Mississippi’s legislature passed a strict, mandatory vaccination law for young children. Unlike some other states, Mississippi does not allow exemptions for religious, personal, or philosophical reasons. Only rare medical exemptions are permitted.
“The bottom line is that if we don’t vaccinate our children we stand the potential for a public health crisis,” said Dr. Timothy Quinn, a family practitioner who has been in practice for 10 years and has never seen or treated measles case.
However, some parents feel Mississippi’s childhood vaccination laws may be too severe. Though her own children are vaccinated, MaryJo Perry and her group Mississippi Parents for Vaccination Rights, support immunization but also feel parents should have more say.
“We feel like parents should be able to do the research on vaccines and be able to discuss these things with their doctors and they ought to have the liberty to have vaccine choice,” said Perry, who wants Mississippi to make it easier for doctors to allow exemptions.
State health officials aren’t budging, however.
“This choice of not vaccinating their children actually affects the children around your child, not just your child,” said Dr. Mary Currier, of the Mississippi Department of Health.
“It’s extremely important as a nation that we take proper precautions to protect children and our community,” said Hare. “If a parent is concerned about vaccinations and their possible outcomes, we suggest that the parent speaks with their family pediatrician so that they can weigh the pro’s and con’s based on factual scientific evidence and make an educated decision on the health and future of their family together with a medical professional.”