By JASMINE WATTS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan schoolchildren are less susceptible to diseases such as pertussis, chickenpox and measles, thanks to a recent decrease in immunization waivers, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Michigan has experienced a 39 percent decrease in the number of waivers submitted for the 2015-2016 school year, compared to the same time last year, the department said in a news release.
Waivers, which some parents seek for religious or philosophical reasons, exempt children from required vaccines to enter a specific grade. The fewer children who are vaccinated, the higher the risk of spreading preventable diseases.
Michigan had the sixth-highest immunization waiver rate in the country in 2014, with more than 5 percent of kindergarteners lacking required vaccines, according to the department.
The increase in vaccinations follows a new rule, effective in January 2015, that requires parents seeking a non-medical waiver to meet with local health department staff. Previously, waivers could simply be obtained from the school and signed by a parent, and a child’s enrollment was not delayed if the child wasn’t vaccinated.
In the 2015-16 school year, there have been nearly 8,000 fewer vaccination waivers for children entering Michigan’s schools, according to the release.
“Parents go to the health department to get a waiver, but they also get some education about the different vaccines, their importance, the risks and appropriate schedule,” said Meghan Swain, executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.
Joann Hoganson, Kent County’s director of community nursing, said requiring that parents obtain waivers from local health departments has advantages.
“Health department nurses are very well-informed and capable teachers who can guide loving parents to making the best decision for their children,” Hoganson said. “This is not the scope of expertise of school personnel. If we want what is best for our children, we must get the info from the most reliable source.
“Public health nurses are ideal for this important task and can provide non-judgmental and accurate information in a manner that the parent can understand and then make the decision for themselves.”
Some school districts send children who are not immunized home immediately if there’s an outbreak of a contagious disease.
“The new law does not take away a parent’s right to choose,” said Jame McCall, associate superintendent of student services in Traverse City. “It does, however, create a more informed choice model as parents must receive information prior to being given a waiver.”
McCall said that the district is grateful that parents were informed that their children could be dismissed from school if the child is not immunized. This was helpful when the district had to exclude students when there was an outbreak of chickenpox.
However, there has been some objection to the new vaccination requirements. Rep. Tom Hooker, R-Byron Center, has introduced two bills that would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing the requirements that parents meet with health officials before attaining a waiver and that unvaccinated students stay homeduring disease outbreaks. The bills have been referred to the House Committee on Health Policy.
By JASMINE WATTS