Until just yesterday, Mississippi had been consistently clocking the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rate in the United States (it just jumped from 50th to 49th, with Alabama taking its place at #50). As of July 7, 2o21, only 47.1% of adults in Mississippi had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with only 33.2% being fully vaccinated. This is in comparison to the national average of 48% of adults being fully vaccinated. Even in Madison County, Mississippi, which has the highest vaccination rate in the state, only 45% of adults are fully vaccinated. This is in stark comparison to New England states such as Vermont and Massachusetts, which have surpassed 60% fully vaccinated adults and over 70% having received at least one dose.
On July 7th, Mississippi reported their highest number of daily new Covid-19 infections in four months. And the new highly transmissible Delta variant is likely responsible for close to 80% of these new infections.
But while states including Mississippi and Alabama have, by far, the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates, Mississippi has the highest childhood vaccination rate in the country, specifically with respect to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Since 2014, many states and counties, including tony areas of California and Washington state, began to see plummeting rates of MMR vaccinations in school-aged children, leading to pockets of measles outbreaks, a highly contagious, preventable, and potentially deadly or life-altering viral illness. Infants and children with measles infections can develop meningitis, brain infections, permanent deafness, permanent neurologic injury, and lung infections. The false notion that the MMR vaccine and other childhood vaccinations were linked to the development of autism spectrum disorders in children led many parents down a dangerous rabbit hole of false information online, and many of these parents sought personal belief exemptions to enter school without their children being fully vaccinated. In more recent years, some states have removed this option, leaving only medical exemptions as a means of parents foregoing vaccines for their children.
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Mississippi (and West Virginia) were the only two states that allowed for medical exemptions only for childhood vaccinations, as opposed to others that allowed for both personal belief and religious exemptions. As of 2014, four states allowed for both personal belief and medical exemptions, 28 states allowed for religious and medical exemptions, and 16 states allowed for personal belief, religious, and medical exemptions. In order to maintain herd immunity to prevent measles outbreaks, anywhere between 92 and 95% of the population needs to be immunized. In Mississippi, this rate has been about 99%. Since 2014, when measles outbreaks started to climb, many states dropped religious and personal belief exemptions as options to avoid vaccines, but this only applied to children entering kindergarten. Those children who had entered kindergarten in earlier years without being fully vaccinated did not need to ‘catch up’ on vaccine delays until they enter middle school. This has left schools with low overall vaccination rates due to older elementary school students remaining un-vaccinated until sixth or seventh grade. Mississippi, on the other hand, maintained high vaccination rates in nearly all school-aged children in the state.
The polar opposite has occurred when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations in the state with the highest MMR vaccination rate— they are having trouble crossing the 50% vaccinated threshhold in their adult population. The difference between these extremes seems directly tied to policy and politics. While the policies regarding Covid-19 vaccination requirements are in flux, especially as all vaccines remain under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), policies regarding vaccine requirements for places of employment, schools and travel remain to be determined.
The controversies in the Covid-19 vaccination effort have been largely politically-based, bereft with conspiracy theories ranging from vaccines causing infertility to their ability to surreptitiously insert magnets and microchips. Controversies and conspiracies on MMR vaccines were different, yet no less heated. But if the state with the lowest (or now second lowest) Covid-19 vaccination rate can have the highest childhood MMR vaccination rate, based on stricter public policy, not conspiracy theory, more stringent requirements for Covid-19 vaccinations, once fully FDA-authorized, may be even the least vaccinated state’s ticket out of this pandemic.