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Opinion | 3 in 10 Michigan kids aren’t fully vaccinated. That must change

Back-to-school season is a time of new beginnings. A restart. A fresh chance at a better year with better outcomes.

Thomas Veverka
Dr. Thomas Veverka is president of the Michigan State Medical Society. (Courtesy photo)

And I would venture to say those are all things that would be especially welcomed this particular year. COVID-19 has been with us for some time now, but for the first time in nearly three years, it feels like a fairly normal school year could be within our collective grasp. However, if we hope to get there, Michigan needs a different kind of restart — one that originates outside of the classroom.

Childhood vaccination rates for preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough have been dropping for years now — a decline that was only hastened by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2019, overall coverage for the primary childhood vaccine series in Michigan has fallen by 6.5 percent — a figure that may sound trivial, but in reality, it’s a drop that leaves tens of thousands of additional Michigan children vulnerable to potentially deadly diseases.

As things presently stand, only 68.5 percent of Michigan children are fully vaccinated against a host of vaccine-preventable diseases — a far cry from the rates required for herd immunity, which can be as high as 90 percent or greater for extremely contagious diseases like measles.

And here’s why that matters as we’re preparing to send our children off to what we all hope will be our first school year in recent memory that will be unmarred by disruptions to critical in-person instruction.

Measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox — outbreaks of these diseases are now just as likely to shutter our schools. COVID-19 can no longer be viewed as the singular risk to student health inside the classroom. There are serious infections that have been with us far longer that pose an even greater threat to our health that also need our consideration. The problem is, we’ve forgotten the harm and heartbreak that can come with those outbreaks. It’s simply been too long since worrying about measles or polio have been part of the collective consciousness, and there’s one simple reason for that: the vaccines that protect against those diseases worked.

As far as problems go, it’s certainly a good one to have. But now the onus is firmly on all of us to make sure long-forgotten communicable diseases don’t make a roaring comeback. Because with where immunization rates currently stand, it’s not a question of if an outbreak will occur, but when.

We’re already seeing it in pockets across the country. Polio — a literally crippling virus long thought to be eradicated in the United States and the rest of the developed world — has actually made a comeback and is now circulating around New York City. That should be enough to make everyone sit up and listen.

Polio can cause incurable paralysis and death. Measles can result in brain swelling that leads to permanent brain damage and death. Whooping cough hospitalizes half the babies who contract it. Vaccines make these dreadful outcomes preventable.

All of this should be scary. But everyone must also know that these kinds of outcomes are preventable.  

So, as summer winds down and you begin to work through the standard back-to-school checklist for your kids, please be sure to add getting your children caught up on their routine vaccinations to the list. In fact, please star and underline it as well. Shopping for new backpacks and notebooks is certainly more fun, but nothing is more important than making sure your children are protected against potentially deadly — and completely preventable — diseases.

Call your pediatrician or family doctor today and make an appointment to see that your children are caught up on their routine vaccinations.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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