Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Signs Resolution to Support Breastfeeding

Mississippi Resolution to Support Breastfeeding _Page_1
Last week, new mothers and babies in Mississippi won an important victory. On August 7th, the Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves signed into law a resolution introduced by Senator Kenneth Wayne Jones to support breastfeeding mothers in the state.

Breastfeeding is an important tool in Mississippi’s fight for public health.  Scientific research has linked breastfeeding to lower incidences of childhood obesity, diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as increased rates of parental attachment and higher intelligence rates.[1]  Additionally, in a resource poor state like Mississippi, breastfeeding is a healthy, sustainable, organic, free resource for Mississippi’s infants.  Despite all of these benefits, Mississippi has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country.[2]

Drafted by Desta Reff, the Harvard Delta Clinical Fellow*, the resolution recognizes and expounds upon the benefits of breastfeeding and calls upon hospitals, employers, and citizens to do more to support and promote breastfeeding in Mississippi.

Read the full resolution.

*The Harvard Delta Clinical Fellow is a joint Harvard Law School/Mississippi State University fellowship and works in close collaboration with CHLPI’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.

[1] Why Breastfeeding is Important, Off. on Women’s Health, U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Servs. (July 21, 2014), http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-benefits.php.

[2] Nat’l Ctr. for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, U.S. Ctrs. for Disease Control and Prevention, Breastfeeding Report Card United States 4 (July 2013), available at http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2013breastfeedingreportcard.pdf.


CHLPI Clinic Students Awarded Public Service Fellowships

Congratulations to the following former Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation clinic students who received 2014 Public Service Venture Fund fellowships to pursue diverse opportunities for 2014-2015.

Stephanie Berger (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a fellowship to work with the Community Law Office of Jefferson County in Alabama, where she will represent indigent criminal defendants with a specific focus on cases involving mental health concerns, forensic science, and collateral repercussions. She was selected as the Inaugural HLS Early Decision Fellow and will be a member of Gideon’s Promise. During her time at HLS, Stephanie was heavily involved in the Mississippi Delta Project as a Mental Health Initiative Team Leader. She also participated in the Disability, Veterans, and Estate Planning Clinic, the Criminal Justice Institute, and the Harvard Mediation Program. During the summers, Stephanie interned with Mental Health Advocacy Services in Los Angeles and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Prior to law school, Stephanie graduated summa cum laude in Neuropsychology from Colby College where she served as program manager for Colby’s Best Buddies chapter.

Mason Kortz (J.D. ’14 cum laude) has been awarded a fellowship to join the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, where he will be working on impact litigation and policy reform in the area of privacy, technology, and government surveillance. During his time at HLS, Mason served as co-president of the HLS ACLU chapter and has participated in the Health Law and Policy Clinic as well as the Cyberlaw Clinic. During law school, Mason interned at his sponsoring organization, the ACLU of Massachusetts, working primarily on First Amendment issues and also interned at the Boston University School of Law where he served as a research assistant.  Before attending law school, Mason worked as a software developer and scientific data manager. Mason was awarded one of the Dean’s Awards for Community Leadership.

Grace Nosek (J.D. ’14 cum laude) has been awarded a fellowship to join the Environmental Law Centre in Victoria, British Columbia where she will work on and study law and policy initiatives aimed at ensuring that all citizens have access to and are empowered to participate in government assessment processes of energy pipeline proposals.  While at HLS, Grace co-authored, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, a comprehensive policy report produced in partnership between the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council.  She also presented on legal hurdles to childhood nutrition before a non-profit based in Boston and made a short film explaining the problem of food waste in America. Grace has worked with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the Program on Law and Social Change, the Harvard Law Documentary Studio, and the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project.  She has complemented her education through internships at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  To supplement her legal and policy research and advocacy, Grace has written and published a young adult novel, Ava of the Gaia, the first in a series of environmentally themed books.

Erin Schwartz (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a fellowship to join the Union Settlement Association, where she will engage in food policy advocacy, educational outreach, and transactional counseling to low-income and small-scale food entrepreneurs and community development organizations in East Harlem. While at HLS, Erin served as President of the Harvard Food Law Society and participated in the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. She was also involved in the TEDxHarvardLaw: Forum on Food Policy, the Harvard Law and Policy Review, and the Harvard Mississippi Delta project. During her law school summers, Erin interned at the New York City Council’s Office of the General Counsel and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ryan Tonkin (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a Kaufman Fellowship to join the Together Against Poverty Society in Victoria, British Columbia to lead a federal disability advocacy project which will leverage community and personal resources to secure government entitlements for the most vulnerable residents of Vancouver Island. During his time at HLS, Ryan served as President of the Harvard Law and Health Care Society. He was also involved in the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, the American Constitutional Society, the Harvard Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, and the Program on Negotiation. Ryan has completed summer internships at his sponsoring organization, the Together Against Poverty Society, and Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver. Ryan has been designated a Harvard Presidential Scholar.

Full list of 2014 Public Service Venture Fund recipients.

A Fighting Chance: Why States Should Eliminate Nonmedical Childhood Vaccine Exemptions

By: Madeline Morcelle, 2013* Summer Intern, Health Law & Policy Clinic

A nurse administers a vaccine as part of the CDC National Immunization Program

A nurse administers a vaccine as part of the CDC National Immunization Program

In the heat of a smallpox epidemic at the turn of the century, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts empowered its cities to enforce compulsory vaccination when necessary for the public safety.  When the epidemic surged in Cambridge, the city issued an order requiring residents to be immunized against the disease or pay a fine.  After refusing both to be vaccinated and to pay the fine, a Cambridge resident challenged the resolution as unconstitutional.  His case made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Harlan wrote that at a time when the public health was at risk, not only was the mandate constitutional, but “it was the duty of the constituted authorities primarily to keep in view the welfare, comfort, and safety of the many and not permit the interests of the many to be subordinated to the wishes or convenience of the few.”

Despite the millions of lives saved by mass immunization in the century that followed, objections to compulsory vaccination never went away; they only grew louder.  Anti-vaccine hysteria reached new heights in the late ‘90s when a study published in the Lancet linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to regressive autism.  The study has since been widely discredited by the scientific community and was retracted by the Lancet in 2010, but not before it severely damaged consumer confidence.  As a result, we have seen a steady decline in vaccination rates for children with health insurance.  In California and Vermont, for example, the number of kindergartners vaccinated against measles dropped from 93% in 2005 to 83% in 2010.  These drops in numbers show that the fear mongered by the anti-vaccine movement is strong.  We must be stronger.

Since the early ‘80s, all 50 states have required that all children be vaccinated against childhood diseases as a requisite for entry into public schools, with exceptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. 48 states allow religious objections, and 17 allow objections based on philosophical, personal, or conscientiously held beliefs, although states are not constitutionally required to allow any of these.  The difficulty of qualifying for such exemptions varies by state.  A few states require parents to provide a written and signed statement that they are a member of a recognized religion that opposes immunizations, and even provide the religion’s reasons for opposing the vaccine.  Far more allow parents to request a religious or philosophical exemption simply by checking a box on a form.  Advocates for personal belief exemptions—often driven by unproven notions that vaccines are linked to autism and other disorders—contend that parents should have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children.  They fail to address how a parent’s refusal to vaccinate his or her child places all of our nation’s children at great risk.

Childhood vaccinations are required with good reason.  When a sufficiently high portion of the population is immunized against a contagious disease, the population will be protected through “community” or “herd” immunity.  This means that there are not enough people susceptible to the disease for an outbreak to occur.  The threshold needed to achieve herd immunity ranges by vaccine.  Experts believe that in order to achieve herd immunity against measles, for example, between 92% and 95% of children in a community must be vaccinated.  In every given community, there will always be individuals who will not develop immunity to a vaccine-preventable disease.  No vaccine is 100% effective, and many have minimum age requirements.  Some children cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, such as a compromised immune system.

What is clear is that when enough people refuse to be immunized for nonmedical reasons, they put all of us at risk.  The past decade has seen an increasing number of vaccine-preventable outbreaks that cluster in communities that resist immunization.  The proof is in the numbers.  In 2012, nearly 50,000 cases of whooping cough were reported, 25 times more than the 2,000 cases reported in the early 80s.  The highly contagious vaccine-preventable infection is extremely dangerous for infants and young children.  It is most deadly to those under 2 months, who are still too young to receive the vaccine.  In June of this year, California had already seen 8 times the number of cases that it had the same time last year.  Areas with high rates of personal belief exemptions are 2.5 times more likely to see high levels of whooping cough cases.  A few weeks ago, California’s epidemic claimed the life of a third infant.  The baby contracted the infection at three weeks old, still too young to receive the vaccine.  It should have been protected by herd immunity, but in Sacramento County, where personal belief vaccine exemptions soar, it didn’t have a fighting chance.

Public health officials declared in 2000 that endemic measles had been eradicated from the United States, yet, in May of this year, measles cases reached a 20-year high in our country.  The resurgence of the highly contagious virus, which can lead to serious complications such as brain damage and death, has been attributed to the anti-vaccine movement.  Of the unvaccinated Americans that have contracted measles so far this year, 5% were still too young to receive the vaccine, 6% missed opportunities for vaccination, and 85% refused the vaccine because of religious, personal, or philosophical objections.  It is inexcusable that after decades of painstaking efforts and apparent success, the disease has returned en masse.

It seems our nation has strayed from Justice Harlan’s conviction that the interests of the many should not be subordinated to the wishes or convenience of the few.  There are a few pockets of hope.  Last month, a United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York upheld a policy barring unvaccinated children from New York City public schools, ruling that “religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations.”  The ruling was a step in the right direction for New York, though the state still allows parents to request religious exemptions.  Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states in the nation that do not allow any nonmedical exemptions, no matter a parent’s personal or religious beliefs.  They must be doing something right, because in Mississippi, 99.9% of kindergartners receive their MMR vaccine; the highest rate in the U.S. West Virginia’s rate is also above the national average, at 96.3%.  Other state lawmakers have a duty to protect the public health by following suit.

When parents refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons, they are not simply making an individual parenting choice; they are placing all of our nation’s children at great risk.  Our national emphasis on helping parents make the right choice through public health education is not enough.  Public health messages aimed at increasing childhood vaccination rates do not persuade already skeptical parents.  The responsibility of keeping our children safe must fall to our lawmakers, who should follow the example of Mississippi and West Virginia and end nonmedical exemptions once and for all.

Our nation’s children deserve much better. It is time we give them a fighting chance.

*Madeline is a 2015 JD candidate at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.


The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.