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State divided over tough vaccination laws

With at least 166 cases of measles confirmed across 18 states and the District of Columbia, the debate over vaccinations is intensifying.

Mississippi has some of the strictest immunizations laws in the country, and as a result, it has the highest vaccination rate for children. But some Mississippi residents think their state's laws are too restrictive. Children are required to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and other immunizations before they can attend day care or enroll at school, and there are no exemptions for religious or personal reasons.

West Virginia is the only other state that does not allow vaccination exemptions based on philosophical and religious beliefs.

In addition to measles, Mississippi requires vaccinations for whooping cough, polio, hepatitis B, measles and chicken pox. Childcare workers in the state also are required to be up-to-date on their vaccinations.

The law has proven to be incredibly successful; 99.7 percent of kindergarteners have their shots, which is about 5 percent above the national average.

"If measles comes here, it can't spread here. Unfortunately that's what we're seeing in other parts of the country," Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state epidemiologist, told CBS News.

Measles - Vaccination Rate by State | FindTheBest

But while health officials like Dobbs take pride in Mississippi's high rate of vaccinations, this is not the case for all residents. Lindey Magee is the co-director of Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights. Magee says she isn't anti-vaccine, but she thinks the laws are unnecessarily restrictive and that parents should be able to choose which shots their children get.

Though medical experts say vaccines are clinically proven to be safe and effective, Magee is still convinced the shots come with a certain level of risk.

"We believe that parents should have some options according to their unique child," she told CBS News.

The debate comes as other states are considering tightening up exemption laws, in line with Mississippi's, to cut down on the spread of measles.

In California, where the current outbreak has sickened more than 100 people, parents requested more than 13,000 "personal belief" exemptions for their children last year. Last week, state lawmakers proposed a bill that would eliminate personal and religious exemptions and require vaccination for all children unless they had a medical reason not to.