Huge drop in Michigan vaccinations scares experts during coronavirus

Michigan is among a number of states seeing large declines in vaccination during the coronavirus outbreak. (Shutterstock)

Even as COVID-19 cases in Michigan rise past 66,000, health experts warn of a troubling decline in vaccinations among all age groups.

That poses not only a broad public health threat on top of the coronavirus, but could complicate plans to open schools in the fall, school officials say.


In May, Michigan vaccinations were down 44.5 percent overall compared to the previous two years, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Among children from infants through age 8, vaccinations fell 22.3 percent; and the drop was 15 percent among infants and toddlers up to 24 months.

For adolescents ages 9 through 18, vaccinations were down 65.5 percent for the same period and 67 percent among adults age 19 and up.

“It’s very concerning,” Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Bridge Magazine.

“This has some very deep impact and the potential to see the outbreak of other diseases such as mumps and measles. It’s really hard to tell what could pop up, especially when you have a population that is receiving less doses than in the past.”

School health officials are aware of a “significant increase” in the percentage of children missing up-to-date childhood vaccinations, said Terri Czerwinski, president of the Michigan School Nurses Association. “It’s definitely a concern that is being talked about.”

Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “This has some very deep impact and the potential to see the outbreak of other diseases such as mumps and measles.” (Courtesy photo)

Czerwinski said she hopes parents catch up with vaccinations before school begins in September, “so we’re not dealing with other issues on top of COVID and flu season.”

Vaccinations children typically receive between their fourth birthday and the day they enter kindergarten include combination vaccines that combat diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, and measles, mumps and rubella, Czerwinski said.

Students without up-to-date vaccinations can enroll in Michigan schools only after a parent or guardian completes a vaccination education program at a county health department and sign a waiver.

There is a chance some students without complete vaccinations could be held out of school in September.

Czerwinski said she is unaware of current plans to drop the requirement that a parent has to visit the county health office to receive a vaccine waiver. 

“I’m told there is not an impetus to change that,” she said. 

As Bridge previously reported, vaccinations plunged in March and April, as many doctors offices and health clinics paused in-person patient visits during Michigan’s shelter-at-home order during the coronavirus outbreak. While MDHHS reported vaccinations began to rise after mid-April, physicians say some parents are still fearful to enter a doctor’s office with their child because of the coronavirus.

Ann Arbor pediatrician Scott Moore: “I’m still having conversations with parents who are saying I’m not coming in until (COVID-19) is over.” (Courtesy photo)

Ann Arbor pediatrician Scott Moore said he was glad to see an uptick in patients in the last month or so, as “people felt more comfortable coming in.”

But he said his office continues to field calls from parents wary about coming in for a shot for their children.

“I’m still having conversations with parents who are saying I’m not coming in until (COVID-19) is over,” Moore said.

Moore said he informs such parents there’s risk to that as well.

“All these vaccines are imperfect, but they work really well when you get a big uptake of people who have been vaccinated. When you lose that, you start losing the protection.”

He noted that measles is particularly contagious, as one carrier is likely to infect 12 to 18 others.

“It is much more contagious than even the flu or COVID,” he said.

Amy Zagman, executive director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, said she is hopeful that, as pandemic restrictions are loosened, more families will take children to their pediatricians for vaccinations.

“We know everyone’s been scared to go out, but we really need to get back on top of things,” Zagman said. “There are definitely people trying to catch up on things they couldn’t do.”

The vaccination delay is a national problem, not just in Michigan, Zagman said. 

“Some states are talking about mobile vaccination units to reach families” worried about visiting doctor offices, Zagman said. “Here, we’re hoping the system the way it is built can recover between now and when school starts.

“The last thing anyone needs is another infectious disease going around.”

Sharon Swindell, president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, cautioned that this fall’s flu season could add one more infection risk for schools and the wider public.

“I think people underestimate how many people die from influenza each year, including children,” she said.

In 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,869 Michigan residents died from flu or pneumonia and 1,798 died in 2017.

“This fall, with schools hoping to reopen fully or partially, you can imagine how flu symptoms would complicate validating a child for COVID exposure and how it will wreak havoc for kids remaining in school,” Swindell said.

“I think it is of the utmost importance to protect (with vaccines) against the things we can protect against,” she said.

There is no vaccine for COVID-19 and most experts predict none are likely to be developed and approved for public use before 2021.   

While Swindell said the “vast majority” of parents understand the value of vaccines, she added: “There is a small number of parents that probably will not choose to vaccinate no matter what information they have. They are very firm on this topic and that remains their right.”

In 2019, as a U.S. measles outbreak topped 1,200 cases, Michigan had 46 measles cases ranging from 8 months to age 63. That appeared to be driven in part by an anti-vaccination movement whose members question the safety and value of vaccines. Many opt out of getting shots for themselves or their children.

In 2014, Michigan had the sixth-highest rate of unvaccinated kindergartners in the nation. An outbreak of whooping cough ─ also highly contagious ─ at a Traverse City charter school late that year spawned more than 150 suspected cases. It was tied to parents wary of vaccinations, as 17 percent of Grand Traverse Academy kindergartners had parents who signed waivers exempting their children from immunizations.

State law at that time required parents to immunize school-age kids against communicable diseases such as measles, whooping cough, mumps and tetanus — unless they received a waiver that allowed them to opt out for medical, religious or “philosophical” reasons.

To reduce the number of waivers, MDHHS in 2015 mandated that parents who want to opt out for non-medical reasons must sit down with a local health worker for an educational session on vaccine-preventable diseases before obtaining a waiver.

That led to a rise in vaccinations, until the COVID-19 outbreak.

MDHHS and the West Bloomfield-based Franny Strong Foundation, which co-fund the state’s I Vaccinate campaign, plan an advertising push for late summer reminding parents of the importance of childhood vaccinations.

“Both groups are focused on getting the word out to parents that it’s extremely important to get kids caught up (so) they’re protected going into day care settings and schools this fall,” said Andrea Poole, with the I Vaccinate campaign. “August is a big month, because a lot of people will schedule their back-to-school appointments at that time.”

And while health experts say a COVID-19 vaccine is likely the best way out of this pandemic, a national poll in May found that 20 percent of those surveyed said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine and 31 percent weren’t sure.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, said if significant numbers of people opt out of taking a COVID-19 vaccine it would make it “unlikely” to achieve herd immunity from the virus.

Troy-based Michigan for Vaccine Choice, a nonprofit opposed to mandatory vaccines, warns on its website: “SPEAK UP NOW: No Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates.”

“Are you ready to give up everything over a virus? It is time you let your elected officials know that our way out of this is not dependent on a vaccine — especially a forced, fast-tracked vaccine skipping necessary safety requirements!”

Michigan for Vaccine Choice President Suzanne Waltman told Bridge that residents would be right to be wary of any COVID-19 vaccine.

As for the overall drop in vaccinations in Michigan, she added: “When I hear they are down I say, yay, people are not getting vaccinated. People are deciding maybe they are not life-saving. If they were, I am sure people would be rushing in to get their kids vaccinated.”

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 5:28pm

Well, duh!

First the media goes out and scares everyone about Wuhan.

Too many people got paranoid due to the incessant coverage and now there are concerns that those very same people they purposefully scared with their propaganda now don't want to go out?

You reap what you sow!

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 11:51am

Do you know anyone who was struck by polio?

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 3:41pm

YES. I knew many who got polio back then. And how happy we all were to get shots to prevent that awful disease.
How quickly we forget and return to stupidity.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:22pm

Good, some learned posters I can ask these pressing questions:

When did the governor of Michigan lock up the entire state when polio was around?

When did the government issue a series of misleading, contradictory and confusing "orders", that citizens "must" obey?

When did any elected official (state or local) shut down the entire economy?

When did government officials issue absurd health mandates that DID NOT affect the transmission of polio?

Let me see how you handle the softball questions first?

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 11:43am

Don't be a drama queen. No one is locking you or anyone else up. Grow up!

Kevin Grand
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:18pm

Hey, if you want to cbeck you Liberty at the door because the governor gets off on scaring everyone with questionable "science", then knock yourself out.

The majority of freedom-loving Americans have had more than enough of the medical security theater that is being passed off as true leadership.

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 6:31pm

It is disappointing that there is so little concern about why people are hesitant to have you children receive vaccinations that include multiple vaccines, or vaccinations in general. I wonder why the medical profession doesn't feel parents should receive an equivalent presentation about each vaccination as medicine provide in their TV ads.

One of my grand kids became extremely sensitive to foods [eggs [how many vaccines are egg based?], nuts, milk] to the point her parents had to always carry an epi-pen. Why did her mother have to do 'battle' to spread out the vaccines to individual vaccinations. Why couldn't doctors see her reasoning for this? When the child started school she had to have the same battle with the school [ended up taking their kids to a charter school because the public ones would not keep and epi-pen with protocol, and would allow for the staging of vaccinations].
The 'experts' have a history of disregarding the concerns of parents, so why should we be surprised more and more avoid vaccines.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 9:33am

The answer is simple, duane, fear sells.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 11:50am

Kevin, did you even read duane's post? He was saying vaccines should be spaced out, totally different from what you are saying.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:24pm

And YOU tell me how often doctors pressure new parents into accept this Molotov cocktail of vaccines?

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 6:08pm

The administrators of vaccinations had no fear for the kids, care for parent concerns, or willingness to address personal reservations, it was all displaced with a desire for efficiency. They were able to find a charter school that was willing to help the parents and children, but not the public schools.
Spacing out was just the way the mother was able to manage the concerns, that is not something that may address all risks/concern/reservations. What is needed is a willingness of professionals to work with the people they are supposed to be serving.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 8:47am

Why not create outdoor spaces, tents, or drive-throughs for vaccination at some major community hubs, such as the UM and MSU clinical centers? A major fear is the indoor waiting room. Public service announcements are needed and outreach through the state and employers.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 11:56am

I have very strict rules for my practice and have been open throughout the pandemic, providing safe care and expecting all my patients to comply with my rules. Know your doctor!

George Hagenauer
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 9:07am

Having had a great uncle who spent his entire life in an institution due to either the flu or the measles damaging part of his brain as a child, I see vaccinations in a totally different light than many younger people today who did not grow up with that experience or the experience of living through the polio epidemic and having friends end up in iron lungs or crippled. When the polio vaccine was developed we all got vaccinated at school - something sadly not probably feasible today. Reflecting on what I read on facebook by Covid19 deniers and anti-vaccers it dawned on me that a lot of the dialogue was not much different than what I would do if I was a foreign government and wanted to severely damage the US economically and militarily. Just make sure that the precautions taken by my country isn't taken in the US causing chaos and a military having to deal with regular outbreaks among its ranks. It is a perfect strategy I see everyday on social media and spread by people who think they are super-patriots but in fact are helping to weaken our country.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:02pm

This backward thinking has left our country so vulnerable right now which is what Putin wants. Soon Russia will be controlling us when the polar ice cap is gone and new shipping lanes are open. The temperature of the Great Lakes right now is 78 degrees! It's hotter weather here than in Florida. Young people today seem so gullible.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 10:44am

I am so sorry your publication chose to give even a mention on your platform to an anti-science, vaccine denier organization like Michigan for Vaccine Choice. You should be refuting rather than repeating their fear-mongering foolishness.

As schools re-open, whenever that turns out to be, Michigan should very strongly enforce the mandate that students be up to date on reccomended vaccines unless they have a medical waiver. We are alreading dealing with a SARS-CoV-2 pandemic; and should not allow measles, mumps, or whooping cough to get even a toehold in our popultion this winter.

Michael Philips
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:07pm

I agree.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 1:34pm

Well, that is so reassuring to hear that ALL vaccines are 100-percent safe, that there are absolutely NO adverse reactions to them whatsoever to each and every person they are administered to. That they have been 100-percent peer-review tested, with no questionable or immoral manfacturing methods.

And I'm also relieved that those same vaccine manfacturers are that confident in their own product, that they do not require any legislation shielding them from any lawsuit, should their product prove to be dangerous and unsafe.

People will be glad to hear this.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 3:44pm

The expected answer from Kevin.

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:03pm

Isn't it? It makes me wonder if he feels this way about all large corporations.


Kevin Grand
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:27pm

I'm sorry, Rick, was anything I posted above factually incorrect?

If I didn't get it right, then enlighten the readers here with the truth.

Don't keep us waiting too long!

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:35pm

Addendum; wasn't it just a year or two ago that conservatives were telling us we should Fast Track certain pharmaceuticals for desperate and dying patients?

What do you call it when one party pushes two different memes and both contradict each other?


Kevin Grand
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:22pm

Huge difference between right to try and the above.

Thank you for playing.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 4:55pm

You are right! At least the vaccine goes through a double blind peer reviewed study before people are asked to take it.

What you are suggesting with "right to try" is Russian roulette.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:03am

You make it out as if those trial drugs are whipped up in a basement lab somewhere.

They are early in the pipeline for testing and approval by pharmaceutical companies. The same people who put out the other vaccines and medications so they have SOME history in doing this sort of thing.

You keep downplaying one major difference: People aren't REQUIRED by the government to take them.

middle of the mit
Sun, 07/12/2020 - 4:06pm

You just admitted they were made by the same people and you are only worried about vaccines being, well........I will refer you to your original post and ask....... what?

How can the same manufacturer be all good and all bad at the same time?

You are REQUIRED so that EVERYONE doesn't get sick and die. If you don't like public health, you could always move to a third world country where freedom means you HAVE to have an AR.

Matt G.
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 4:56pm

First of all, nobody said vaccines are 100% foolproof and 100% safe and have never caused any problems in any humans. You made up that strawman argument all on your own. Some people (very young, very old, immunocompromised people) cannot be vaccinated. That's why it's really important for you to promote vaccination in anyone who can get one.

Second, it must be so scary to need sarcasm as a shield for your ignorance. No wonder you're afraid of vaccines.

Have you ever heard of the idea that correlation does not imply causation? Back in medieval times, people believed lice were healthy because you didn't see lice on sick people. We now know they were wrong and it's just that lice are just sensitive to increases in body temp, so they left people who had fevers. See, people make incorrect connections between observations all the time. If you hit your head on the cabinet every time the neighbor walks his dog by your house, does that mean the neighbor is causing it? Obviously not, but people make those types of conclusions all the time.

For example, "When I sleep with my pants on, I always get a headache. Therefore sleeping with pants on causes headaches". These are examples of things we know are not true so they seem silly. That's why vaccination causing autism and allergies are also known to be wrong and silly. But, because they happen at similar times in terms of child development, ignorant parents make connections between the events without any evidence of causation or any sort of explanation for how a vaccine could cause the problem.

Vaccines are made using eggs, therefore my daughter's egg allergy was caused by vaccination. It's just as wrong as lice being good for you, but you have to actually understand what's going on with vaccine production (OR TRUST EXPERTS) to really understand. Since you do not trust experts and you don't know what's going on with vaccine production, you've inserted your own reality where it doesn't belong.

Kindly stop doubling down on spreading your ignorance and endangering public health. PLEASE. Your fellow citizens' health depends on it.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:24am

Starting off by employing the old deflect and disparage argument?

I'll make this one short then.

First off, I never said anything about being afraid of vaccinations. I do, however take a guarded view when companies modify a vaccine schedule that had been staggered out over several months and then try to condense in down considerably with questionable or little testing, all for the sake of convenience.

Second, not only is your lice/cabinet/pants analogy very confusing, but it is a red herring as well. It is also flat out insulting to people who can read for themselves. I still stand on my original argument: If this product is as safe that those promoting it claim it to be, then there should be ABSOLUTELY, no need for blanket immunity from prosecution codified into federal law. Nor, should the federal government set up a slush fund to pay the damages of a private company.

Michigan man
Sun, 07/12/2020 - 9:34am

Oh boy. Nobody, ever, should be forced to take chemical cocktails. Ever, no matter what.

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:28pm

Someone already suggested it here.
Health departments should explore have a drive up vaccination day at a park or fairgrounds for children returning to school.

Robyn A Tonkin
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:45pm

I needed my second, and currently more crucial, pneumonia vaccine, but will die if I contract covid 19. I found my physician's office very easy to work with--I had my shot out in the parking lot on a gorgeous sunny day, both myself and the provider wearing masks. It was the best vaccination experience of my life, except for the time I was a little girl and chose my oral polio vaccine (on a sugar cube in a white paper cup) from a long table swathed in white linen tablecloths, set under the trees at a school. That day, my entire family felt the gravity of what we were doing--acting in concert with all other Americans. Too bad we can't get it together for that anymore, because we need to. I look forward to the covid 19 vaccine and anti-viral drugs, and appreciate every day the people who are working tirelessly to make that happen. I also appreciate the work that has been done on the flu vaccine, a vaccine which will prove vital this fall. I hope I can find quadrivalent Fluzone for myself and my husband.

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 1:49pm

The term expert means absolutely nothing now. What are they concerned about? Losing billions of $?

Logic is the enemy, truth a menace.

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 6:21am

Most doctors were only seeing patients via zoom meetings etc. Very difficult to administer vaccines via the Internet. When your locked down, you’re locked down !