School immunization laws are set by individual states. Public health programs, such as immunization, are designed to protect the health of the public — that is, everybody. Remember that vaccines protect not only the person being vaccinated, but also people around them. Immunization laws exist not only to protect individual children, but to protect all children — including the very small number of kids who, for medical and religious reasons, are unable to be vaccinated and remain susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases.
We know all parents are busy, so making vaccines mandatory for schools and daycares helps move vaccination higher up on the priority list. More importantly mandating vaccines for school and child care entry keeps children safe from serious diseases while in school settings.
In Michigan, parents with school-age children have the option to sign a vaccination waiver for philosophical or religious reasons. In 2014, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that less than 75 percent of young children and adolescents in Michigan were fully immunized, and Michigan ranked sixth highest in the U.S. for the number of parents who seek medical, philosophical or religious waivers exempting their children from school vaccine requirements.
As of 2015, parents who want a waiver for their child must attend an information session at their local health department. A year after implementing this reform, there were nearly 8,000 fewer childhood immunization waiver requests. In 2016, Michigan’s waiver rate dropped from 4.6 percent to only 2.8 percent.
Mandatory vaccination might not be a perfect solution, but it is a practical solution to a difficult problem and a way to protect the health of many thousands of Michigan children.