As thousands of Mississippi kids head back to school, health officials are pushing parents to get needed vaccines. Childhood vaccination is one of few health measures where Mississippi leads.
Mississippi has stringent vaccine requirements and few exemptions for the nearly half-a-million kids in public school.
State Health Officer Mary Currier says health officials require vaccinations not only to protect children against harmful or deadly diseases, but also to protect the rest of the population.
"We want every child in the school protected. if we vaccinate all the kids that can be vaccinated, who don't have a medical reason for not being vaccinated, than we can protect the ones who can't be vaccinated or didn't respond to the vaccine," Currier said.
Mississippi routinely ranks in the top three for the rate of childhood vaccination.
Currier says the only exemption for the vaccine requirement is a valid medical reason...Mississippi does not allow for religious or philosophical exemptions as many other states do.
"There are places in this country where it is easier to get an exemption than it is to get vaccinated. And in those places we are seeing a resurgence of whooping cough and measles," Currier said.
In addition to children needing vaccines against 14 serious childhood diseases, older students need vaccines as well.
University of Mississippi medical Center pediatrician Dr. Jimmy Stewert says older kids needs booster shots of childhood vaccines and new protection against diseases common among teens.
"There is a new vaccine called Garidsil which helps to prevent cervical cancer, and this is given to females and males. And there is another vaccine against Meningococcal disease which causes meningitis.," Stewert
Health officials credit the vaccine requirements with decreasing the number of whooping cough and measles cases, which are both well below nationals figures.