This story appeared on Detroit Free Press. Read the full story here.
The start of a new school year is on parents’ and guardians’ doorsteps, and health officials in Michigan are urging them to put childhood immunizations at the top of their back-to-school lists.
There’s a good reason for this, they said, because Michigan is seeing some of its lowest vaccination rates in a decade — and just one case of a communicable disease can start an outbreak.
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said Thursday this year “is different” and children should be up to date on vaccinations. People can look at their school’s vaccination data online to understand their child’s risk.
Health officials said the vaccination rate for toddlers — those 19-36 months old — is at 66.5% for recommended doses in the primary series, one of the lowest rates Michigan has seen since 2011, citing state health department data. They said the vaccination rate for children in this group is less than 70% in more than half of the state’s 83 counties, according to June data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry.
Michigan counties with the lowest vaccination rates
For required vaccines, Michigan’s 2010 rate was 60%; 68% in 2011, and 66.1% in 2023, officials said.
State officials released the 10 areas with the lowest vaccination rates for children in this toddler age group: Oscoda County (36.5%), Keweenaw County (50.0%), the city of Detroit (51.2%), Clare County (52.9%), Houghton County (53.9%), Lake County (55.1%), Gladwin County (56.7%), St. Joseph County (58.9%), Sanilac County (59.9%) and Lapeer County (60.5%).
Bagdasarian said higher percentages of immunizations helps reduce the risk for outbreaks of communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough) and chickenpox.
For example, she said, measles is airborne and is “extremely transmissible” but preventable.
While officials in the U.S. don’t often worry about large measles outbreaks, Bagdasarian said, they can happen, particularly in an undervaccinated community. Last fall, 85 patients experienced rashes and 36 were hospitalized during a measles outbreak in central Ohio, which was declared over in February, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency stated 94% of patients had not received the MMR vaccine.
A measles outbreak in 2019 saw 46 cases in Michigan, with 42 of them in metro Detroit.
In a release, health officials in Michigan said that kindergartners attending school in a building with vaccination coverage less than 90% more than doubled between 2015 (16,408 students) and 2022 (37,368 students). The number of schools with kindergarten coverage rates less than 90% also nearly doubled between 2015 (466) and 2022 (808 schools).
‘These diseases are real, and they circulate in our communities’
Veronica McNally, president of the Franny Strong Foundation and founder of the I Vaccinate campaign, said most children do receive their vaccinations on time, but rates have decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because people fell out of the habit of taking their children to regular doctor visits.
She and Bagdasarian said trust in vaccines hasn’t declined overall, but there may have been a little spillover effect during the pandemic and the politicization of vaccines.
“Two things in no uncertain terms: These diseases are real, and they circulate in our communities,” said McNally, who lost her infant daughter to pertussis in 2012, adding vaccines work and are safe and effective.
That includes the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for older children to protect them from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in their lives. Bagdasarian said that vaccine is “is phenomenal and groundbreaking.”
Ruthanne Sudderth, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, encouraged parents and guardians to get information from trusted sources, such as local health departments or health systems or their care providers. Trusted sources also can be those working in school-based health clinics.