A bill that would expand medical exemptions for state childhood vaccination requirements is making its way through the Capitol.
Mississippi has some of the strictest vaccinations requirements in the nation. Under current law, children looking to enroll in public schools are only exempt if they have a physician’s excuse that’s been approved by the state health department.
HB 938 would remove the health department from the exemption process. The measure passed the House, by a vote of 65 to 54, but only after an hour of heated debate.
Speaking against the measure, Representative Steve Holland, a Democrat from Plantersville says the expansion is unneeded because parents are simply not asking for exemptions.
“Only 156 parents sought one statewide,” Holland says. “That is not myth Chairman, that’s fact. If you don’t believe it, I don’t know what it would take to make you believe it, but here’s the statistics from the state board of health.”
But the bill’s author, Republican Representative Mark Formby of Picayune argues health officials are denying claims despite physician recommendations.
“I’ve got stack of denials.” Says Formby. “I hear people say ‘Oh, they’re not denying anymore.’ I’ve got denials from this past year. I’ve got current denials. Now the only thing I’m doing today is trying to get past all of the hogwash that’s been spread around, get into the reality of the situation, and that is that a doctor should make this decision.”
But vaccine choice advocates like Mary Jo Perry of Pelahatchie and Lindey MaGee of McComb say they will push for further changes to the state’s laws.
“It’s a very good day, but we realize that were halfway,” says Perry. “So we’re going to take a deep breath, recollect, organize and activate.”
This is not the first attempt by some parents to change Mississippi’s requirements. Over the past few years, proponents of vaccine choice have called for adding philosophical and religious exemptions from state requirements. All have failed due to stiff opposition from state health officials.