Vaccination rates among toddlers in Michigan were at their highest in 2017, but have been declining for two years straight, which is cause for concern according to a new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy and Data Driven Detroit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates have dipped even further during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating higher risk for the spread of other contagious, communicable diseases—and preventable ones at that.
The report, “Childhood Vaccines in Michigan,” analyzes data over time, with interactive maps that track immunization data for each county in Michigan going back to 2008. While overall rates are up statewide from 2008, the decline over the last few years is a concern. Looking at county data, a number of counties have had their vaccination rates plateau or even dip in the past few years.
By 2019, declining vaccination rates nationally led to the greatest number of measles cases in the U.S. since 1992. In Michigan, children as young as 8 months old were affected by the outbreak.
“Dips like this are concerning because vaccines are about public health,” said Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director. “Herd immunity protects everyone from contagious diseases—but the exact rate of immunity to protect a population varies depending on the disease, so any dip in vaccination rates is a threat. Last year’s measles outbreak prompted us to look more closely at the data to find patterns.”
And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, rates have decreased further due to delayed appointments, shifts in resources and other complications. As the state opens back up and people loosen social distancing efforts, additional outbreaks not just of COVID-19 but of communicable diseases across the board may follow.
According to the report, the right policies can improve public health issues like vaccinations. When Michigan updated immunization requirements for schools and the Affordable Care Act required healthcare plans to cover the cost in 2010, increased vaccination rates followed. A policy put in place in 2015 required parents to attend educational sessions in order to receive nonmedical vaccination waivers, which was also followed by increased vaccination rates.
“But we need to continue to move the needle on this, pun intended,” Perdue added. “We know, for example, that paid family leave policies give parents time to take their kids to multiple appointments without losing income. And paid leave is a proven solution for a lot of the problems facing families and kids, so we’d love to see Michigan push for more workplace policies like this.”
Michigan’s kindergartners have a vaccination exemption rate almost double the national estimate, at 4.5 percent (national is 2.5 percent). Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the spread of misinformation and confusion and related, unsubstantiated concerns around vaccines. The report points to a 2019 Gallup poll that shows 46 percent of Americans are unsure whether autism and vaccinations are linked, and 10 percent said vaccines cause autism.
“There is a lot of misinformation about immunizations, and data can be a powerful tool in helping us ground what can be really emotional and personal conversations. We’re encouraging people to use this report and the maps inside it to understand the issue from a local perspective so that they can make an informed choice about the health of their kids,” said Stephanie Quesnelle, senior research analyst at Data Driven Detroit.
The report also features an interactive map to view immunization rates for kindergartners in Detroit Public Schools.