Michigan Childhood Immunization Waiver Rates Plummet after Successful Reform, but Bills Threaten Progress

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Michigan Childhood Immunization Waiver Rates Plummet after Successful Reform, but Bills Threaten Progress

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Michigan's Waiver Rate Drops Over 39 Percent in First Year under New Parent Information Policy

Michigan physicians, nurses, educators and health care providers with the Parent Information Network (PIN) today urged lawmakers to reject dangerous legislation that would repeal a recent state reform heralded for significantly decreasing the state’s childhood immunization waiver rate.

Waiver rates plummeted by more than 39 percent statewide in 2015, according to data released this morning by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The rapidly improving immunization rates come just a year after the January 2015 implementation of a reform designed to better inform parents on the safety and importance of vaccinations.

In 2014, 4.6 percent of Michigan children received an immunization waiver but by November 2015, that rate had fallen to only 2.8 percent. In all, 2015 saw nearly 8,000 fewer childhood immunization waiver requests across the state.

Introduced last December, House Bills 5126 and 5127 would undo the state’s common sense reform, threatening the health and safety of Michigan children.

"Rising immunization rates mean safer, healthier Michigan kids, and that’s great news," said Susan Wakefield, MD, a pediatrician in Grand Rapids. "Now's not the time to repeal common sense reforms aimed at giving parents access to the facts about immunizations. Lawmakers should be excited about the success Michigan is having keeping our children safe from vaccine preventable diseases, not looking to move backwards to the days of higher waiver rates."

Last January the state implemented a new reform aimed at providing parents with information and education about the importance of immunizations as they make critical health decisions that impact their families and communities. Under the rule, parents seeking a non-medical waiver must get the waiver signed at their local county health department.

"It is critically important that parents are informed about the health decisions they make for their children because those decisions not only affect their own families but also all the families in their community," said Carrie Langbo, a mother and resident of Richland in Kalamazoo County. Her son, Jack, has a common variable immune deficiency.

Everyone wants what's best for their children, and the stat'’s current policy on vaccinations is proving successful in making that happen. It should not be repealed."

Families choosing not to immunize their children still have that option, but are supported with a consistent, detailed assessment of the personal and public health implications of their choices.

Since the reform, waiver rates dropped in every region of the state:

  • Statewide, the childhood immunization waiver rate plummeted more than 39%, with nearly 8,000 fewer waivers submitted than the previous year.
  • In metro Detroit, waiver rates dropped 34% in Macomb County, 51% in Oakland County, 53% in Wayne County, and 63% in the City of Detroit;
  • In west Michigan, waiver rates dropped 12% in Kalamazoo County, 21% in Allegan, and 36% in Kent;
  • The Capitol region saw waiver rate drops of 29% in Eaton County, 30% in Ingham, and 55% in Clinton;
  • Waiver rates dropped by 31% in Bay County, by 48% in Genesee, by 52% in Midland, and by 66% in Saginaw; and
  • In Grand Traverse County where schools were closed in recent years due to the fear of outbreaks, the waiver rate dropped 39%. Waiver rates dropped 44% in Wexford and 50% in Manistee.

Because of their developing immune systems and exposure in settings like school and daycare, children and infants are especially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. Infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated are not protected from many preventable diseases making it critical to protect the entire family, especially school-aged children, through immunizations.

"Michigan’s recent immunization waiver reforms have made a real difference for thousands of kids but House Bills 5126 and 5127 threaten that progress," said Marcus Cheatham, president of the Michigan Association of Public Health. "Childhood immunizations protect our kids from dangerous, infectious diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough. Parents want the best for their kids, so equipping them with the support they need couldn’t be more important."

PIN is made up of Michigan’s leading health care providers, including the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, Michigan State Medical Society, Michigan Osteopathic Association, Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Michigan Association of School Nurses, the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, the School Community Health Alliance of Michigan and the Michigan Association of Health Plans. PIN works together to better educate parents about the importance of childhood immunizations.