This op-ed by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun appeared in the Detroit Free Press. Read the full story here.
States across the nation — including Michigan — are experiencing the worst outbreak of measles since the disease was declared “eradicated” in the United States in 2000.
This should cause great concern. Serious and potentially fatal diseases such as measles, whooping cough (pertussis), mumps, influenza (flu), and chickenpox are still very much with us in Michigan and across the country and globe. As of August 22, 1,215 cases of measles have been confirmed nationwide — including 46 cases in Michigan. In Michigan last year, there were 658 reported cases of pertussis, 486 reported cases of chickenpox, and 81 cases of mumps.
These are not diseases to be taken lightly, as they have the potential to cause significant harm and even kill. Prior to the measles vaccine program that started in the U.S. in 1963, more than 3 million people a year got the measles, 4,000 of those got serious brain infections, and each year up to 500 people died. Especially at risk for the most serious complications of these diseases are the elderly, people with compromised immune systems (such as people taking chemotherapy for cancer or certain medications for arthritis), and most notably children. Pertussis and the flu have killed children in Michigan in recent years.
All these diseases share one thing in common: they can be prevented by vaccinations that a consensus body of medical research has proven to be generally safe and effective. The decision to not vaccinate has impact well beyond one unvaccinated person. There are many people who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, or they have weakened immune systems. One individual’s decision to not vaccinate can mean someone else unnecessarily suffers or even dies.
We must improve childhood immunization rates in Michigan. While most parents vaccinate their children, in Michigan in 2019, only 59.1% of children ages 19 to 36 months were up to date on all the recommended vaccinations. The most recent data ranks Michigan 29th in the nation for vaccination coverage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets the U.S. childhood immunization schedule based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — a group of medical and public health experts. The recommended immunization schedule also is approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Following the schedule and not skipping or delaying vaccinations protects infants and children by providing immunity early in life, before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.
Infants and young children who do not follow the recommended schedules and instead spread out shots —or leave them out entirely — are at risk of developing diseases during the time the shots are delayed. There is no evidence that delaying or spreading out vaccines is any safer than following the CDC schedule. Evidence is overwhelming that the recommended immunization schedule is safe and effective.
If you have questions about vaccines, I urge you to visit IVaccinate.org, a website designed with the input of Michigan parents, doctors, nurses, public health and immunization experts. The website includes recommended vaccination schedules, Michigan-specific resources and a frequently asked questions section with answers to common questions based on credible medical research and sources.
Immunizations are a matter of public health and sometimes can be the difference between life and death. Vaccination is the safest, most effective way to protect not only your child, but also our entire state from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Let’s work together to protect each other and give all Michiganders the opportunity to live healthy and happy lives.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is the chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.