STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Kent County working to encourage more parents to vaccinate

Steve and Sara Emry

Unvaccinated kids could be responsible for recent trouble at the "happiest place on earth". Disneyland has a measles outbreak, which has infected 59 people so far, and spread to four other states in addition to Mexico.

Michigan's rate of unvaccinated kids is right behind California. Michiganranks thirdamong states for the number of unvaccinated kids.

The consequences of an under-vaccinated population of kids is taking a toll in school environments across the state, where whooping cough and measles are at an all-time high. 

Kent County is trying something new to break that trend and to avoid an outbreak like Disneyland’s. They’re implementing mandatory educational sessions for parents before they can get a waiver for school vaccinations. The sessions are about 15 minutes long and give parents the chance to discuss their questions and concerns with a nurse.

Michigan already requires all kids enrolled in school be vaccinated for diseases like measles, polio, and whooping cough before starting the semester. The option to refuse is made possible by an Immunization Waiver Form that allows parents to opt out by explaining their religious or philosophical objections to immunizations. Michigan is one of only 20 states that have them, and the amount of waivers filed is increasing each year.

So which parents are saying no to required vaccinations?

·         Affluent parents are most skeptical

·         Those who think vaccines are linked to autism and other reverse effects

·         Parents who have low access to preventative health resources

·         Parents who have a poor relationship with their physician

Kent County's vaccine education program is a result of Michigan Department of Community Health’s new rules that were effective January 1. Now,parents must have a “conversation” with a county health department employee before obtaining a waiver.  

Dr. Martin Levinson has told Michigan Radio in the past that parents choosing not to vaccinate think they are protecting their child, when “in reality they’re doing just the opposite.” Misinformation regarding the effectiveness and risks associated with immunizations is largely to blame.

Unvaccinated students aren’t the only ones in danger of contracting preventable diseases; they put vaccinated students from all backgrounds at risk. Low-income kids experience the most harm when illness strikes because of limited access to healthcare services.

Data from the program in Kent County will be followed closely to see if it makes a difference in the number of vaccinated kids and the incidence of disease.