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Anti-Vaccination Crazies Strike Out In Bible Belt States

6/20/2014

Newsweek
By Amy Maxmen
June 19, 2-14

In May 2014, measles was at a 20-year high in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that there were 288 identified cases—and counting. This is particularly dismaying news since the highly contagious disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

However, citizens of two states need not worry that the dangerous illness would infiltrate their communities: Mississippi hasn’t seen a measles outbreak since 1992; West Virginia can count back to 1994. That’s because neither state permits children to enroll in kindergarten without getting their full roster of vaccines—no matter their parents’ personal or spiritual beliefs. Critics of the states’ unusually strict school vaccine mandates regard them as unfair, and the ensuing debate often boils down to a constitutional battle between religious freedom and equal protection for all. So it’s a little ironic that two of the most conservative Bible Belt states in the country are the outliers here.

Measles—and other vaccine-preventable diseases like whooping cough and tetanus—periodically surge in communities where high percentages of parents decide not to fully vaccinate their children. That’s why health officials and pediatricians all over the country eye Mississippi’s and West Virginia’s draconian vaccine mandates with envy. “People assume we must be wrong since the other 48 states allow [nonmedical vaccine exemptions],” says Jeff Neccuzi, the director of West Virginia’s immunization program. But, he argues, they’re the ones who have it right.

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