Mississippi, often a punchline in state-to-state comparisons, has the highest vaccination rate among school-age children. Before being admitted to any child care facility in the state, Mississippi residents are required to receive seven separate vaccines, giving Mississippi some of the toughest vaccination laws in the country.
However, Ole Miss, the state’s flagship university and a Carnegie certified R1 research institution, only requires proof of one vaccine before enrolling in classes on campus.
Students are only required to show proof of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) because they are highly communicable diseases that could easily spread on a college campus.
Sandy Bentley, pharmacist at the Student Health Center, said it is expected that most students received the other seven vaccines during their childhood. Though, since proof is not required by the school for admissions, it’s possible for an unvaccinated student to bring exposure to the campus.
“The likelihood of transmission is the reason that it matters,” Bentley said. “It hasn’t been a problem before. We haven’t had outbreaks of contagious diseases, but the thing I could see is possibly meningitis since it tends to attack at the college age and from dorm living people, which is the perfect combination.”
Bentley said that the school requires the MMR vaccination because there have previously been measles and mumps outbreaks on college campuses, but diseases such as polio are far more rare. However while outbreaks are rare, they aren’t impossible. If a student did bring exposure to campus, the people most susceptible would be other students that haven’t been vaccinated.
There are seven vaccinations that are required for children in the state of Mississippi: hepatitis B, Pertussis (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough), polio, hib, pneumonia, MMR and varicella (chicken pox).
Students in the health education program are required to show proof of the hepatitis B vaccine and MMR, because of the potential exposure to blood and other fluids. Students enrolled in courses remotely or programs that limit their campus time may be excluded from even the required MMR vaccine, but that will be determined by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) after they examine the hours the student spends on campus.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Mississippi is ranked first in the nation for vaccinations. Data shows 99.4% of Mississippi residents received their immunizations before entering kindergarten.
Mississippi law does not allow vaccine exemptions for religious, philosophical or conscientious reasons. This policy leaves about .1% of residents exempt from required immunizations according to the CDC.
Caron Blanton, Director of Communications at the IHL, confirmed that the Board of Trustees establishes all policies regarding immunization requirements at all public universities in the state of Mississippi, including but not limited to the University of Mississippi.
In 2016, the IHL Board of Trustees approved a new health policy for international students that required more than just the MMR vaccination in order to enroll in classes. This policy was put in place to prevent any rise in tuberculosis after IHL studies found that a majority of the new cases in the United States are found in foreign-born students.
The 2016 IHL press release revealed that of the approximately 2500 international students Mississippi Public Universities enroll each year, about 50% come from countries at high risk for tuberculosis.
The new policy was recommended to the IHL Board of Trustees by Thomas Dobbs, State Epidemiologist, Mississippi State Department of Health, and Ralph Didlake, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Dr. Travis Yates, former Director of the Student Health Center at the University of Mississippi, said though the university only requires one vaccination before admittance, he recommends all students get all their vaccinations.
The on-campus pharmacy and Student Health Center offer the seven required immunizations for Mississippi state residents, along with Tdap, HPV, meningococcal, hepatitis A, influenza, rabies and shingles vaccinations.
“(The health center) recommend(s) all vaccines and pushes them hard,” Yates said. “You need (meningococcal) meningitis and Tdap. Every time you get a cut, we look for that, and you need varicella for chicken pox. The communicable diseases that are so dreaded are mumps, measles and rubella, so those are the only three that are required.”
Though only one vaccination is required at the university, medical experts such as Dr. Yates, and the board at the Mississippi State Department of Health, strongly recommend students get all their vaccinations. The Mississippi State Department of Health, recommends the flu shot once a year, Tdap (Tetanus) and HPV.
“Everybody needs (the) HPV (vaccine),” Yates said. “It’s the one vaccine you can get that can prevent cervical cancer. Initially, it was only for the little girl before she becomes sexually active, but everyone should get it now.”
Yates believes it is possible that the required immunizations were established 10-15 years ago and could be outdated, which is why the university only requires the MMR vaccine for students.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article should have reported that Mississippi requires seven vaccines for children enrolled in licensed childcare facilities and recommends eight. The previous headline incorrectly said that the state required eight vaccines for children.