Michigan kindergarten vaccinations plunge. What’s the rate in your school?

Two toddlers sharing a teddy bear

This story appeared in Bridge Michigan. Read the full story here.

The number of Michigan kindergartners attending school where vaccination rates were less than 90 percent has more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, state records show.

That means roughly 37,000 of the state’s 112,300 kindergartners last year were in buildings with vaccination rates less than the threshold generally accepted to avoid the spread of infectious diseases.

That’s up from about 16,000 kindergarteners in 2015.

Michigan health leaders spotlighted the data on Thursday to plead with parents to add vaccinations to their back-to-school to-do lists. Low rates increase the risk of disease outbreak such as the 85 cases of measles in Columbus, Ohio, this past school year, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s medical executive.

The warnings come as students and teachers return to school this month. Grand Rapids Public Schools resume Monday, while classes restart Aug. 28 as Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Since 1978, Michigan has required a set of vaccines for kindergarteners — 14 total doses for everything from mumps, measles and rubella (the MMR shot) to diphtheria, tetanus and rubella. Additional vaccines are also required by the time children reach seventh grade.

The downward trend in vaccinations began years ago and tumbled in 2020, when the pandemic tore through Michigan, prompting families to skip routine doctor visits to avoid contracting the virus.

Last year, some 808 of the state’s 2,025 schools had kindergartens where vaccination rates were less than 90 percent, up from 466 schools in 2015.

In contrast, 1,217 schools had kindergartens where vaccination rates were at 90 percent or above, attended by a total of 75,927 students.

“People got out of the rhythm of the well-child visits, where normally they’d get those vaccines,” Veronica McNally, whose daughter, Francesca, died in 2012, told Bridge Michigan.

The child, known as Franny, was 3 months old and died of pertussis, or whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable disease. She was too young to be vaccinated.

The tragedy prompted McNally to create the West Bloomfield-based Franny Strong Foundation and the I Vaccinate campaign. She also is a consumer representative on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Toddler rates decreasing

According to the state’s latest immunization “report card,” rates for traditional vaccines for babies and toddlers had fallen to 65.9 percent as of June 30 — down from 74 percent at the end of 2019 — far below the national goal of 80 percent.

As few as half of toddlers are fully vaccinated in some areas of Michigan. In Oscoda County in northern Michigan, just more than 1 in 3 children ages 19 to 36 months, or 36.5 percent, are fully vaccinated.

“It’s a conservative community. I think they’re very caring people, but … a lot of people don’t like being told what to do. They see this as big government,” said Dr. Mark Hamed, the county’s medical director.

Seven other counties and the city of Detroit have toddler vaccination rates of less than 61 percent: Keweenaw County (50 percent), Detroit (51.2), and the counties of Clare (52.9), Houghton (53.9), Lake (55.1), Gladwin (56.7), St. Joseph (58.9), Sanilac (59.9) and Lapeer (60.5).

Kindergarten rates fall

More than 90 percent of the kindergarten students in Crawford, Schoolcraft, Alcona, Montmorency, Luce, Montcalm, Gladwin, Marquette, Kent, Gratiot and Allegan were in schools with a vaccination rate of 90 percent or higher.

In Missaukee, Ogemaw, Oscoda and Lake counties, none of the students attended in a school with a rate above 90 percent and just 4 percent of students in Otsego County were in schools that hit the 90 percent threshold.

Among more populous counties: Kent had the highest rate, at 90 percent of students in schools at or above 90 percent vaccination, while the rate was 62.1 percent in Oakland, 64.9 percent in suburban Wayne, 51.9 percent in Macomb and 42.2 percent in Detroit.

More than half — 54 percent — of private schools had vaccine rates under 90 percent, compared to 36 percent of public schools.

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About I Vaccinate

I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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