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State data: Over half of MI counties' routine childhood vaccination rates under 70%; Detroit at 48%

Dr. Khaldun speaking at an elementary school.
Photo provided by Andrea Poole

Health officials are worried about the drop in routine childhood vaccination rates over the past year, especially as schools start soon.

Over half of Michigan’s counties’ rates dropped below 70%, according to the state's Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, and data from June.

Public health officials generally consider 70% the desired rate. Seven counties are under 60%.

Oscoda County has the lowest rate at 45%. Michigan's biggest city, Detroit, is 48%.

“As students return to in-person classes and as we’re still dealing with rising COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant, it’s critical that we avoid outbreaks of other serious, preventable diseases,” Khaldun said.

The state's total rate for the same age range (19 to 36 months) is lowering too: in June 2016, the rate was 74.6%. In June 2021, it was 69.3%, according to data provided to Michigan Radio from the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

"As we have seen with COVID-19 across the entire country, when an area has lower vaccination rates, it creates an environment where diseases can spread," Khaldun said. "All it takes is one infected individual."

"A choice to vaccinate is not just a personal choice. It's a choice to protect the entire community."

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said diseases like chicken pox, once considered early on as a "nuisance," can get serious. Especially if someone contracts it as an adult.

According to a news release, one reason for the drop is that parents postponed visits to the doctor during the pandemic. But officials now urge parents to get their kids’ records updated soon

"...(I)n addition to being at risk for COVID-19, our children are susceptible to diseases like measles, chicken pox, pertussis and more," I-Vaccinate founder Veronica McNally said.

McNally lost her baby to pertussis, or whooping cough, in 2012. 

COVID-19 vaccines for kids

Khaldun also warned that while it is true kids who get COVID-19 may not get seriously ill, some can be deeply impacted.

Michigan tracks cases of MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. It is a rare condition that cause multiple organ systems to become dysfunctional and has affected some young people who were, according to the state website, “infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19.” As of the end of July, there are 160 known cases

Kids can also contribute to the spread of the virus. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is currently not part of the required childhood immunization schedule. But children twelve and over can get the vaccine.

Right now, a third of Michigan children ages twelve to fifteen have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 43% of teens aged 16 to 19 have at least one dose. 

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said the message of herd immunity hasn't been getting through: there will always be a few individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, and that higher vaccination rates protect them. 

"Children are being victimized right now by a pandemic that has a simple solution: adult vaccination — and actually, 12 and older vaccination," Vail said.

When asked about a very rare potential side effect of the COVID vaccine called myocarditis, Khaldun said the risk of severe side effects are much higher when one contracts the coronavirus. COVID itself can cause myocarditis.

Some of MDHHS's coronavirus guidelines for schools from April emphasis vaccines, mask-use indoors regardless of vaccination status and ventilation. 

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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