- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi State Department of Health would lose its role in deciding whether a child can skip or delay a mandatory vaccination against measles or other diseases, under a proposal that awaits debate at the state Capitol.

House Bill 130 says a physician could grant a patient’s vaccine exemption for medical reasons, without seeking the Health Department’s approval for that exemption.

The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, said the proposal would not be a big change because the Health Department granted all 135 medical exemptions that people requested for the 2014-15 school year.

Children must show proof of vaccination before entering school or day care in Mississippi.

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.

Patients with compromised immune systems are among those granted medical exemptions, Currier has said.

“We don’t deny medical exemptions,” Currier said Tuesday.

However, members of a group called Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights say the Health Department has been an obstacle to people who have concerns that the state requires too many immunizations too early in life.

A standing-room-only crowd, including two mothers holding small children, watched Tuesday as the House Education Committee debated the vaccination exemption bill. After the bill passed the committee, the several of the parents hugged and celebrated in the hallway.

“We got the Health Department out of the way,” said Amy Martin, a mother of four. “The Health Department will not be involved anymore in blocking medical waivers, as they did in the past.”

Health Department records show the department has increased the number of exemptions in recent years, from 54 in 2007 to 135 in 2014.

The bill originally would have let a parent or guardian cite personal beliefs to seek an exemption for a child’s mandated vaccinations. The House Education Committee made significant changes in the bill before approving it Tuesday by removing personal beliefs and limiting exemptions to those granted for medical reasons.

The updated version of the bill moves to the full House for more debate.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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