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Health leaders in mid-Michigan came together Monday to urge parents to catch up on vaccines before sending their children back to school.
Vaccination rates for viruses like measles, mumps, and pertussis in Michigan have dropped during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately this past year, routine childhood vaccination rates decrease across all age levels leaving more children and teens at risk of contracting serious or even life-threatening conditions that could be prevented,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said.
Overall in the state, vaccination rates for children fell from 77 percent in January 2020 to 73.7 percent in June 2021. In 46 counties vaccination rates for Michigan children fell below 70 percent. Health experts say a 70 percent vaccination rate is the minimum protection level desired.
“This is very concerning as we have seen with COVID-19 across the entire country when an area has lower vaccination rates it creates an environment where diseases can spread and all it takes is one infected individual,” Khaldun said.
It’s more than just for COVID-19 though. Officials are wanting parents to make sure their children have received protection against communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, pertussis, and chickenpox. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail says a similar thing happened decades ago with whooping cough.
“If vaccination rates went down these diseases would come back with the exception of smallpox which has been eradicated,” Vail said. “In 1974 about 80 percent of Japanese children were getting pertussis vaccine whooping cough. that year there were 393 cases of whooping cough in the entire country and not a single pertussis-related death and then there was some scurrying and scrambling and concerns about the vaccine that weren’t true and immunization rates dropped until about only 10% of those children were being vaccinated. In a short time by 1979 more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died those deaths were preventable.”
Seven counties in Michigan and the city of Detroit have dropped below 60 percent. None of the counties are in mid-Michigan.
East Lansing School Board President Terah T. Venzant Chambers says the community has stepped up during the pandemic, but families and school and health officials cannot let their guard down.
“I have been so proud of the way that our community has stepped up to follow all of the safety protocols that we have put in place with little complaint and our vaccination rates have been really encouraging but we still have some work to do it is not time to let up,” Chambers said.
“There are 17 vaccines that prevent dangerous or deadly diseases and have saved countless lives and prevented just millions of illnesses,” Vail said. “A vaccine protects you and a vaccine protects others. When we start talking about herd immunity that’s what we’re trying to say. It seems to be a message that we can’t get through but just thinking about that, vaccine is something that protects you. It’s not enough we have people in our communities always who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons. We have an obligation to protect those vulnerable people in our community by getting vaccinated around them by creating a barrier for that virus to get into our communities and infect people and we do that very effectively by having high enough vaccination rates around the vulnerable population that cannot get vaccinated.”
For Veronica McNally who is the founder of Franny Strong foundation and I Vaccinate, this issue hits close to home. She lost her daughter to a vaccine-preventable disease in 2012. Veronica said her daughter’s death changed her life, so she made it her mission to try and give up-to-date credible scientific information to others so they can understand the importance of vaccinations.
“Francesca was presenting symptoms of pertussis,” McNally said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know why she had an almost unnoticeable cough. We saw four doctors who didn’t recognize the signs and symptoms of pertussis. When we finally figured out what it was we took her to a pediatric hospital where she was immediately admitted into the intensive care unit and it was just a few days later that she passed away. We were having her baptized as they took her from us. When we hear people talk about COVID-19 and the pain that families are going through I often think about the fact that COVID-19 is not all that different from the respiratory illness presented by pertussis.”
Being in the middle of a pandemic has exacerbated this issue according to officials but they are not losing hope.
“In school learning is so important but we have to be smart,” Khaldun said. “We have to implement the right public health protocols. Please do not give up on this pandemic yet. We have simply come too far.”
Vail says when adults make decisions for kids it greatly impacts the entire community.
“Children are being victimized right now by a pandemic that has a simple solution,” Vail said. “Adult vaccination and actually 12 and older vaccination. I couldn’t help but seeing this sign that says ‘amazing things happen when we try.’ We’re going to continue to try to get every single person eligible for this vaccine vaccinated because amazing things will happen.”
COVID-19 is not currently part of the required childhood vaccination schedule. Close to 33 of children 12-15 and 42.6 percent of adolescents between 16 and 19 have received at least one dose.
The CDC-recommended schedule makes it so children and teens will be protected against 16 different vaccine-preventable diseases before they turn 18.
“We don’t want to see these kinds of shields on desks anymore,” Chambers said. “It’s so important that we all stay up on our vaccinations.”
East Lansing Public Schools will have a “universal” masking requirement with shields on desks during the school year.