JACKSON — Amid concerns about a measles outbreak in other states, Mississippi is sticking with its childhood vaccination law, which is one of the strongest in the country.
A bill that would have weakened the law died Thursday because a chairman chose not to bring it up for a vote before a deadline.
“I really didn’t want to put the House through the pain of a long debate, because there’s so much passion on that issue,” said House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon.
Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states that don’t allow people to avoid vaccinating their children because of religious or personal beliefs.
Bills filed in Mississippi for at least the past five years would have created a personal-beliefs exemption. The proposal this year was in House Bill 130, and the House Education Committee changed it Feb. 3 to say a physician could grant a medical exemption for vaccinations without seeking approval from the state Health Department.
Moore said he let the bill die Thursday because the Health Department is approving more medical exemptions now than it did in previous years.
Because of a measles outbreak in other parts of the U.S., some Mississippi legislators have said they’re hearing from constituents who want to keep a strong vaccination law. Children in the state cannot enroll in day care or school, public or private, without filing a document showing they’ve had all vaccinations the Health Department requires.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that for 2013-14, Mississippi had the largest percentage of kindergartners in public and private schools who have been vaccinated against diseases. Mississippi had a 99.7 percent vaccination rate for that age group for three vaccines: measles, mumps and rubella; the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; and varicella. The national median was 93.3 to 95 percent.
Members of a group called Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights said the Health Department has been an obstacle to people who believe the state requires too many immunizations too early in life.
The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, has said patients with compromised immune systems are among those granted medical exemptions. She said the Health Department granted all 135 medical exemptions that people requested for the 2014-15 school year. That is up from 54 granted in 2007.
After the vaccination bill died Thursday, Currier said the Health Department will make sure the public has easy access to information about required vaccinations and how to request a medical exemption.
“We’re going to do what we can to make the process as clear as possible,” Currier said.
Thursday was the final day for the House and Senate to debate bills that started in their own chamber and had survived committee consideration.
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