Childhood vaccination rates are at their lowest since 2011
Michigan public health leaders are urging parents to get their children caught up on vaccinations prior to returning to classes this fall, to prevent outbreaks of serious communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, pertussis, chickenpox and more.
Vaccination rates for Michigan children ages 19 to 36 months have fallen below 70% in more than half of the state (52 of 83 counties), according to June 2023 data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR).
“Parents should know that this year is different. We’re seeing some of the lowest vaccination rates in more than a decade, which puts our schools and communities at risk,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “We also know that families are traveling more, both out-of-state and internationally. All it takes is one case to spark an outbreak that could affect an entire community.”
One case of a vaccine-preventable disease can spark an outbreak. Last fall, a measles outbreak in central Ohio sickened 85 children. None of the children died, but 36 were hospitalized. Ninety-four percent of them did not receive the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. In 2019, the U.S. was hit with the largest measles outbreak in 25 years, with more than 1,200 confirmed cases in 31 states, including 46 cases in Michigan.
Vaccination rates of younger children dropped during the pandemic. The most recent data from MDHHS shows that only 66.5% of children aged 19 to 36 months have completed their recommended doses in the primary childhood vaccine series – some of the lowest rates Michigan has seen since 2011. For required vaccines, Michigan’s 2010 rate was 60%, then 68% in 2011 and now 66.1% in 2023.
The 10 areas of the state with the lowest vaccination rates for children ages 19 to 36 months are: 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%). The City of Detroit has its own health department located within Wayne County.
While community immunity is different for each disease and vaccine, doctors and public health experts generally agree that a 70% vaccination rate is the minimum protection level desired. Public health officials are most concerned when children who have not yet received all school-required vaccines are clustered together in the same school building. 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). Similarly, the number of schools with kindergarten coverage rates less than 90% nearly doubled between 2015 (466 schools) and 2022 (808 schools). Parents can know their child’s risk by downloading their school’s vaccination data here.
“This means that kids attending school this year are more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. This not only could have severe health impacts for under-vaccinated children, or those with medical vulnerabilities, but also means schools, children and parents are more likely to experience disruption of routine instruction this school year,” said Dr. Bagdasarian.
“We can send our kids to school safely this year by getting them caught up on the CDC-recommended vaccination schedule before the first day, so we can minimize the spread of preventable diseases,” said Veronica McNally, president of the Franny Strong Foundation and founder of the I Vaccinate campaign. “As a mother myself, I’m asking parents to take this opportunity before school begins to protect their children, as well as their classmates, through vaccination.”
The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the COVID-19 vaccine and an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as part of the recommended vaccination childhood and adolescent schedules.
“Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect our communities from the spread of diseases, which is especially important for those who are most vulnerable, like immunocompromised people and children who are too young to receive immunizations,” said Ruthanne Sudderth, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.
Michigan parents with vaccination questions can find answers based entirely on medical science at IVaccinate.org. Parents can download the CDC-recommended vaccination schedule for children and adolescents for reference ahead of doctor’s office visits.