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Michigan doctors and public health leaders are urging parents to get their children caught up on routine vaccinations to avoid vaccine-preventable outbreaks on top of the present COVID-19 pandemic.

The briefing hosted by the I Vaccinate campaign reported vaccination rates for children 19 months to 3 years are below 70% in 42 of Michigan’s 83 counties in a Monday briefing. According to I Vaccinate’s release, 70% is the minimum vaccination rate desired for community protection.

However, some counties vaccination rates drop even lower for children in this age group.

The areas with the lowest routine vaccination rates for children 19 months to 3 years are Oscoda County (45.2%), City of Detroit (49%), Gladwin County (55.9%), Iron County (58.3%), Lake County (59.2%), Clare County (59.3%), Otsego County (59.9%), Mackinac County (60.7%), Cass County (61%) and Houghton County (61.3%).

As coronavirus vaccinations increase and the state opens up, children who are not vaccinated won’t be protected against preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, pertussis, chickenpox and more. This can put others medically unable to be vaccinated at risk as well.

“As people start traveling and moving, we will see an increased exposure to vaccine preventable diseases and my fear is that we’re going to have another pandemic take the place of what we’re experiencing now with COVID,” said Bob Swanson, Immunization Division Director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Routine vaccinations dropped due to widespread shutdowns that reduced access to primary care offices, but doctors are taking necessary precautions to ensure visits are safe, said Dr. Herbert Smitherman, professor of internal medicine at Wayne State University and president and CEO of Health Centers Detroit Foundation, Inc.

Although many providers have transitioned to telemedicine, vaccinations require an in-person visit. Smitherman said medical practices are ensuring employees wear masks, social distance, wash hands and repeatedly sanitize rooms for patient use.

Dr. Joseph Fakhoury urges parents to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended vaccination schedule, as it is the only schedule that has been carefully tested, studied and reviewed. Delaying or skipping vaccinations on this schedule could leave a child exposed to preventable disease.

“This can result into more frequent visits to your doctor’s office, more stress for you as a parent, as well as anticipation of extra shots or increased costs to you,” Fakhoury said.

Fakhoury also said to look for vaccine information from credible sources, such as one’s own family physician.

“It is normal to have questions, it’s normal to be scared, it’s normal to wonder if this is the right thing for your child,” Fakhoury said. “That makes you a good parent. Your doctors, myself included, want to talk to you and we want to make sure that we spend the right amount of time addressing those concerns.”

If any Michigan parent is concerned about in-person medical visits, they should call their child’s doctor to learn more about their specific office protocols, said Dr. Rachel Young, family medicine physician and clinic director of the McLaren Family Medicine Residency Clinic in Lansing.

“So please do reach out to your family physician or your pediatrician about what their measures and protocols are if you have further concerns, and make sure that you are scheduling your well child checks or even a vaccine catch up visit as soon as possible,” Young said.