Mississippi is good at doing things badly. The benighted state is close to the bottom in almost every social metric. And it ranks dead last in life expectancy. The one thing it does well is vaccinate its children. Mississippi did not permit a religious or philosophical object to the state’s mandatory vaccination policy. As a result, Mississippi had the highest childhood vaccination rate in the US.
A cynic might say, given Mississippian’s abysmal life expectancy, mandatory vaccines are ineffective. That would ignore the obvious and profound salutary effects of mass vaccination in keeping millions alive — and cavalierly dismiss the two-century medical record of the efficacy of vaccines.
Unfortunately for current Mississippians and those yet to be born, the state’s commitment to that one aspect of good health has been stripped away in the name of religious freedom. In July, the state permitted parents citing religious objections to deny their children the life and health benefits of vaccination after a federal judge sided with a “medical freedom” group.
Within four months, 2,100 Mississippi schoolchildren were officially exempt from vaccination on religious grounds. Another 500 are exempt because their health precludes vaccination. Dr. Daniel P. Edney, the state health officer, warns that when the total number of exemptions climbs above 3,000, Mississippi will again face the risk of deadly diseases that had been eradicated in the state.
In an interview, Dr Edney said:
“For the last 40 years, our main goal has been to protect those children at highest risk of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and that’s those children that have chronic illnesses that make them more vulnerable.”
He added the ruling was “a very bitter pill for me to swallow.”
Forty years ago, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in ruling that mandatory childhood vaccination was both constitutional and a good idea, said:
“Is it mandated by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that innocent children, too young to decide for themselves, are to be denied the protection against crippling and death that immunization provides because of a religious belief adhered to by a parent or parents?”
They thought the answer was obvious. Children need to be protected from the ill-informed, unscientific, and downright dangerous beliefs of parents. Forty years later, after an onslaught of conservative stupidity in the name of God, a federal judge appointed by Bush Jr. thought that children should not be protected “against crippling and death”. How religion justifies that is anyone’s guess.
Ironically, the world’s major religions do not agree with these fundamentalist American religious extremists. The Vatican says that the fact some vaccines were developed using fetal cells from aborted tissue is not relevant, as the connection to abortion is too remote. Jewish and Muslim religious authorities say that the use of pigs in some vaccine production is not a problem, as these vaccines are not eaten.
It would be wrong to characterize all anti-vaxxers as swivel-eyed loons with a political agenda. Some people are just misguided. However, ignorance is no basis for making policy. The plaintiffs in the case included the Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights, a group founded in 2012 by Mary Jo Perry. She says her anti-vax advocacy began after her youngest son, now 20, experienced seizures following routine vaccination.
Seizures do happen, but they are rare. Nearly all children who have post-vaccination seizures recover completely. As did Perry’s son. So what is her beef? She said that the experience was terrifying. I am sure it was. But so what? That is hardly a medical argument.
Perry also claimed that the state denied her doctor repeatedly requested a medical exemption. The state’s current practice is to grant a medical exemption if a doctor requests one. Problem solved.
Nothing is perfect. With millions of children vaccinated there are bound to be some negative effects. However, the benefits outweigh the risks — by a lot. Should we ban milk because a few kids get gas from lactose — and there is a remote risk of ‘Milk Sickness’ aka tremetol vomiting?
In reply, an anti-vaxxer might say that the government does not mandate milk drinking. Fair enough. However, milk sickness is not contagious. Whereas, the diseases vaccinations have almost eradicated are. And those diseases kill people.
Anti-vaxxers claim that vaccination should be up to the individual. However, vaccination rates must be near universal to keep these fatal infections at bay. When a parent refuses to vaccinate their child, they are making health decisions for everyone else’s child. And those decisions cannot be left up to individual caprice.
Much of today’s increased anti-vax insanity has been driven by political opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But let us note that Mississippi does not, and never has, mandated the COVID vaccine.