By KENZIE TERPSTRA
Capital News Service
LANSING – Childhood vaccination rates in the state are at their lowest since 2011 and remain slightly lower than national rates.
Major reasons include misinformation and inadequate financial resources for public health agencies, creating a heightened risk of spreading of diseases, medical experts say.
According to the latest data from the Department of Health and Human Services, only 66.5% of children aged 19 to 36 months have completed the recommended doses of the primary childhood vaccine series.
“I think that because we’ve been so successful in public health, people don’t understand how damaging these diseases were,” said Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.
According to state data, the five counties with the lowest vaccination rates for children aged 19 to 36 months are Oscoda (36.5%), Keweenaw (50%), Clare (52.9%), Houghton (53.9%) and Lake (55.1%). The city of Detroit also ranks among the lowest communities in the state with a vaccination rate of 51.2%.
The five counties with the highest rate of vaccinations are Ontonagon (81.6%), Midland (77.5%), Kent (77%), Bay (76.9%) and Leelanau (76.8%).
Department of Health and Human Services data shows routine childhood immunization rates by school building for over 2,000 public and private schools.
“Some of those school building vaccination rates are very low,” Bagdasarian said. “We’ve got schools out there with a rate of 0% vaccination, 10%, and then there are schools that have 95% vaccination rates.”
Children in the state are required to receive multiple vaccinations to attend school at varying ages. The required vaccinations are:
- Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP or DTaP)
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal conjugate
- Varicella (chickenpox)
Parents can exempt their children from vaccinations by obtaining a medical or nonmedical immunization waiver.
According to the department, a nonmedical waiver is a written statement by parents or guardians describing their religious or philosophical objections to a specific vaccine.
Additionally, any parent or guardian seeking a nonmedical immunization waiver must receive information regarding the benefits of vaccination and the risks of disease from a county health department.
Joseph Fakhoury, the vice president of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there are multiple reasons for the declining vaccination rates.
“There’s increasing misinformation related to any sort of vaccine,” said Fakhoury, a faculty member at Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker School of Medicine. “Another big piece of the puzzle is that we did have decreased office visits during the pandemic.”
Fakhoury added that county health departments used to be active with clinics as part of the Vaccine for Children program designed to provide better access to vaccines and pediatricians for children.
“Those clinics shut down during the pandemic to redistribute personnel and staffing to focus on the pandemic,” Fakhoury said.
Fakhoury said that with declining vaccination rates, the state is at increased risk of dangerous outbreaks of deadly diseases that are preventable with proper immunization, similar to Ohio’s recent measles outbreak.
That outbreak resulted in 85 children being infected and 36 were hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, said 94% of those children had not received the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, when fewer than 90% of children in a particular community are vaccinated, an environment where diseases can take hold and spread is formed.
Nationally, 93% of children entering kindergarten during the 2022-23 school year had received the recommended doses of vaccinations, according to the CDC.
The state’s rates are slightly lower, with 90.9% of kindergarteners having received complete vaccination requirements in 2022.
According to the state’s data, 160 school buildings reported 100% vaccination rates for kindergarteners. They include Wilcox Elementary in Ingham County, Herig Elementary in Saginaw County, Bemis Elementary in Oakland County and Alcona Elementary in Alcona County.
Fakhoury said health care practitioners are encouraging families to have open conversations with their physicians.
“We want to take care of their child with them in a collaborative approach for all things, not just vaccines,” Fakhoury said.
Raising awareness, including school clinics and nurses in the discussion and re-opening public health agency vaccine clinics are viable routes to increase vaccination rates, according to Fakhoury and Bagdasarian.
“This is not about politics – this is about science and health,” Bagdasarian said.