How many families are requesting religious exemptions for school vaccinations in Mississippi?

Published: Aug. 26, 2023 at 2:53 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - We wanted to update you on what’s happening in Mississippi related to vaccine exemptions for school-age kids.

It was in April that a federal judge ordered the state to add a religious exemption. 3 On Your Side is learning more about what happened after the forms were made available in late July.

”I don’t expect it to, you know, to become, you know, like, Florida or Texas, so to speak,” explained Mary Jo Perry, President of the Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights. “But I think we just had that big rush right there at the beginning of families who had been, you know, waiting for this to happen.”

Mary Jo Perry has been pushing for the religious exemption to be added for years now.

Data WLBT received from the Mississippi Department of Health shows there were around 680 religious exemptions that had been requested as of August 2 which was just a couple of weeks into the form’s availability.

“I anticipated, you know, 1,000ish, give or take for that first wave,” said Perry. “You know, it was it was below that. Possibly, it being rolled out so close to, you know, school registration could have been a problem. I think there are families that may not have been aware yet that it was available.”

The other notable part is that the large majority of the parents asking for an exemption were requesting it for all eight of the required vaccines.

WLBT spoke with Dr. Megan Washington at TrustCare Kids about that.

“I’ve had multiple people already asked me in clinic how I felt about the religious exemptions,” said Washington. “They were considering it. They had concerns about the vaccines. And most of the time when I sit down and really explained to them what child vaccines do for their child and our community, you know, they continue with vaccines.”

She’s concerned about the impact the exemptions could have.

“The religious exemption has nothing to do with medicine and so we are not involved,” she said. “And sadly, I think we will end up seeing more cases of vaccine-preventable illness in Mississippi.”

Before the court ruling, Mississippi was one of six states without a religious exemption for vaccines.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, pertussis, varicella, and others remain a threat to the health and safety of children in Mississippi,” said Dr. Kathryn Taylor, Interim State Epidemiologist at the Mississippi State Department of Health. Mississippi has maintained very high vaccination rates for children entering school for years. While other states have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years, Mississippi has not had a single reported case of measles since 1992. Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent or limit transmission of these diseases in schools and other settings.”

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