The Detroit Free Press: Michigan makes strides in vaccination rates

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By Sen. Jim Marleau
12th Senate District

We just celebrated the birth of our second grandson. Our daughter reminded us, other family members and friends to update vaccinations before visiting him.

Despite the widespread availability of immunizations, we still see outbreaks of preventable diseases here in Michigan.

A significant outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) occurred in 2014 in Grand Traverse County, historically one of Michigan’s most under-vaccinated communities. More than 80 cases of the disease were reported and at least 22 schools in the county were affected.

Pertussis is sometimes fatal for babies who are too young to be immunized, and 50 percent of babies who catch pertussis require hospitalization. Fortunately, childhood immunizations are an effective way to protect our children from dangerous, infectious diseases, such as pertussis, measles and mumps.

Young children and infants are especially vulnerable to these diseases because their immune systems are still developing and they are exposed to many other children in school and daycare.

In Michigan, families who choose not to immunize their children are able to do so. But those who choose not to immunize their families put other families at risk, especially infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated.

To address these concerns, in January 2015 the state implemented a reform aimed at better educating parents on the safety and importance of vaccinations. Parents were provided with information and education about the importance of immunizations. Under the rule, parents seeking a non-medical waiver are required to get the waiver signed at their local county health department.

According to numbers released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services this past January, a year after the implementation of the reform, waiver rates plunged by more than 39 percent statewide in 2015. Michigan’s waiver rate has dropped from 4.6 percent to only 2.8 percent.

In the Detroit area, waiver rates dropped 51 percent in Oakland County, 34 percent in Macomb County, 53 percent in Wayne County and 63 percent in the city of Detroit.

Across the state, there were nearly 8,000 fewer childhood immunization waiver requests in 2015. That includes a decrease of 32.1 percent in the kindergarten waiver rate; a 35.4 percent decrease in the seventh grade waiver rate; a decrease of 37.8 percent in the waiver rate for new entrants to a school district; and a 36.4 percent decrease in the childcare waiver rate.

This is wonderfully encouraging news for all Michigan residents. While these statistics are reassuring, we can’t declare victory. Vaccine-preventable diseases can still be deadly to those who have not been vaccinated.

That is why now is the time to think about vaccinating your children before they head back to school. Yes, it is the middle of summer, but school will be here before we know it. It is critical that Michigan continues to see vaccination waiver rates decrease among the school-aged population.

Families are now more educated than ever about the safety of vaccines and the need to vaccinate their children to protect them and others.

We should not assume, however, that the fight is over. We must remain vigilant to guard against these diseases.

We must continue to vaccinate our children and grandchildren. Now, before our kids head back to school in September, is the time to do so.

This column first appeared in The Detroit Free Press. Senator Jim Marleau is a member of the Senate Health Policy Committee. He serves the residents of the 12th Senate District.