Why does immunization compliance matter? Vaccines are one of the most important medical advances in the last 100 years, preventing disease and death, and suffering. Vaccines are safe and they work. This is indisputable. For children born during 1994-2014, an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths will be prevented during their lifetime with vaccinations. When vaccine compliance is high enough to have herd immunity, the community benefits. In our world today, polio truly is just a plane ride away. We need to stand up for the most vulnerable in our community, those too young or too sick to be immunized. The past few years have seen a resurgence of preventable childhood diseases, and Michigan children are at huge risk because our vaccine compliance is so low we do not have herd immunity. The time is now to take a stand to protect our children and their families from the devastation of preventable childhood illnesses. We can speak loud and clear and demand that Michigan follow in the footsteps of several other states (most recently California) and change the law to only allow for medical exemptions.
What is herd immunity? This occurs when a large percentage of the population is vaccinated against a disease. This protects the vaccinated individual-vaccines are not 100% effective-as well as those who are not able to be vaccinated (too young, immune suppressed or cancer) by decreasing the ability of the disease to spread throughout a community. The greater the percentage of vaccinated people in a community, the safer it is for all individuals in the community, and the likelihood of an infectious disease spreading is greatly reduced. The more infectious the disease the higher number of vaccinated individuals required for there to be herd immunity. Herd immunity can stop the spread of disease and protect a community. The compliance rate in Michigan is astonishing low. Click here to see what it is in your neighborhood.
What is the current Michigan law concerning vaccinations? "A child is exempt from immunization if a parent, guardian, or person in loco parentis of the child presents a written statement to the administrator of the child's school or operator of the group program to the effect that the requirements of this part cannot be met because of religious convictions or other objection to immunization. Medical exemptions are also allowed. As of Jan. 1, 2015, vaccine education administered and certified (signature on waiver) by local health department is required before the waiver (exemption) will be granted." (http://www.nvic.org/Vaccine-Laws/state-vaccine-requirements/michigan.aspx). Michigan has the 4th highest rate of waivers in the Nation. This greatly reduces the overall vaccine compliance.
How does Michigan compare to other states? Mississippi has the highest compliance rate of 99.7%. The main reason that accounts for this exceptional compliance rate, is that the only allowable opt-out in Mississippi is for medical reasons. Michigan ranks 24th for the percentage of children who receive recommended vaccines between 19-35 months. In the fall of 2013, 92% of Michigan kindergartners were fully vaccinated. Michigan has the 4th highest rate of waivers in the country. The number of waivers in a community directly influences herd immunity, putting entire communities at risk. The non-compliance rate varies by county, and even by school, making many children and their families, unknowingly vulnerable to preventable childhood illnesses.
Don't childhood vaccines protect against diseases that are obsolete? Whooping cough is an example of a very serious disease that has returned to Michigan. In the winter of 2014, there were over 150 cases in one school in the Traverse City area. Not coincidentally, this occurred at a school with a very high rate of vaccine waivers, but the risk goes much further than the school grounds. Whooping cough is highly contagious, is spread by coughing and sneezing, is contagious before signs of illness occur, and can be fatal. This is an especially serious disease in infants under the age of 1 year. Half of the infants who contract the disease require hospitalization. The rate of whooping cough has been on the rise. In 2012, there were over 41,000 cases nationwide, and 18 deaths. How do we stop this disease? Routine vaccinations for children and adults, most importantly for adults who will be caring for young children. Measles is another serious disease making a comeback. Measles is the most highly contagious disease that is vaccine preventable. It is very hardy and virulent. If there are 10 people in a room who are not protected from measles, and a person with measles enters the room and exposes these 10 people to this disease, 9 will contract measles. And so will anyone else who enters this room for 2 hours after the room is empty. California was recently in the news regarding an outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland. In the first half of 2015, there have been 178 diagnosed with measles, with 66% related to the Disneyland outbreak. This is what prompted a call to action in California, and the law was changed regarding allowable vaccine exemptions. For every 1000 children who get measles, 2 will die from it. About 1 in every 1000 children who get measles will get encephalitis, which can lead to deafness and intellectual disability. Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis is a very rare but fatal complication that occurs 7-10 years after a person has had measles. The measles vaccine is very safe and effective and provides lifelong immunity to most people who get the vaccine.
What about the possibility of vaccines causing autism? Vaccines do not cause autism. This untruth started with a British physician, Andrew Wakefield (no MD after his name because he lost his license), who published an article in the journal Lancet. This article was retracted because it was untrue. He was found to have earned a lot of money from lawyers who were trying to sue vaccine makers, and he had based his false claims on a study of only 12 children and had manipulated numbers in his favor. His work was deemed irresponsible and dishonest. Unfortunately, this is how the anti-vaccine movement began and continues to fester. The very vocal anti-vaccine group continues to perpetuate lies that put children and their families at risk of devastating childhood illnesses because some parents choose not to vaccinate their children. The facts are clear. Vaccines do not cause autism. Immunizations help to keep children and adults healthy.