- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi House voted 65-54 Wednesday to loosen the process for getting medical exemptions to some of the strictest childhood vaccination requirements in the nation.

It is not clear whether the proposal will survive in the Senate, however.

All states allow a process to get a medical exemption to avoid some or all vaccinations that are required to attend school.

Mississippi, West Virginia and California are the only states that don’t allow religious or philosophical exemptions, and California only removed its exemption in 2015 after more than 100 people who had been to Disneyland contracted measles in late 2014.

The bill that passed the Mississippi House on Wednesday would not create a religious or philosophical exemption, but it would erase the requirement that the Health Department approve any medical exemption granted by any in-state or out-of-state physician.

The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, said in an interview after the House vote that she opposes the bill and will ask senators to kill it because she believes it could undermine public health.

She said that for the current school year, the Health Department approved 155 requests for medical exemptions. She said only one application was denied, and that was because a physician only filled out part of an application.

“Our policy has been to accept them from Mississippi physicians and to work with physicians outside the state,” Currier said of medical exemptions. “Our fear has been that physicians in other parts of the country would just send in requests for children they didn’t know and haven’t been taking care of.”

She said the Health Department has approved more medical exemptions in the past two years at the Legislature’s request.

Parents pushing for the change packed both House balconies Wednesday to watch the debate on the exemption measure, House Bill 938. Similar proposals have died in the past amid opposition from state health officials.

MaryJo Perry is with Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights, the main group seeking the change. She said the U.S. is vaccinating for a long list of diseases and only a small percentage of families seek exemptions from one or more childhood vaccinations. She said she wants to ease the process for getting a medical exemption because she doesn’t want a bureaucrat to tell her - or other parents - what to do. She said parents have told her the Health Department is blocking exemptions from out-of-state physicians.

Perry said her son, now 12, had seizures after receiving a required vaccination when he was 5.

“I felt like I was being terrorized by the state,” Perry said. “They wanted me to hold him down again for one booster.”

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Online: House Bill 938, http://bit.ly/1Qsei7M

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

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