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Don’t neglect the other vaccines that protect children

After a year of dealing with a global pandemic and as people are encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine when available, some other crucial vaccinations to protect the public apparently are getting overlooked.

State and national health officials earlier this week raised an ominous warning that vaccination rates for young children — against illnesses such as measles, mumps, pertussis, chickenpox and more — had dangerously dropped in many states, including Michigan, as parents postponed well-child visits due to the COVID-19 threat.

Vaccination rates for Michigan children ages 19 to 36 months have fallen below 70% in more than half of the state, or 42 of 83 counties, according to February data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry. In six Michigan counties — including Iron County in the Upper Peninsula — and the City of Detroit, the rate has dropped below 60%.

While community immunity is different for each disease and vaccine, doctors and public health experts generally agree a 70% vaccination rate is the minimum protection level desired.

“At a time when our health care system is becoming once again overwhelmed with COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that we avoid outbreaks of preventable serious diseases,” said Bob Swanson, Immunization Division director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s time to catch up Michigan children who did not get their routine vaccinations over the past year so we can protect them and our friends, families and loved ones who are medically unable to be vaccinated.”

The 10 areas with the lowest child vaccination rates are: Oscoda County at 45.2%, the City of Detroit at 49%, Gladwin County at 55.9%, Iron County at 58.3%, Lake County at 59.2%, Clare County at 59.3%, Otsego County at 59.9%, Mackinac County at 60.7%, Cass County at 61% and Houghton County at 61.3%.

“As things continue to open up, kids who are not caught up on routine vaccinations won’t be protected from these potentially serious and preventable illnesses,” said Dr. Herbert Smitherman, professor of internal medicine for the School of Medicine at Wayne State University and president and CEO of Health Centers Detroit Foundation Inc. “Make it a priority. If we don’t, these diseases can and will make a comeback, and I have seen firsthand their devastating impact on families.”

Franny Strong Foundation president and I Vaccinate campaign founder Veronica McNally and her husband, Sean, lost their 3-month-old daughter Francesca in 2012 to whooping cough.

“Infants or children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons count on all of us to be immunized to create a circle of protection called community immunity,” said McNally, who also is the consumer representative on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. “What we are seeing with the drop in childhood vaccination rates in Michigan is very concerning, because it leaves so many unprotected.”

Following the CDC-recommended schedule protects children and teens from 16 vaccine-preventable diseases by age 18. The schedule is recommended by the CDC and is approved by every major medical organization in the country, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians. It also is the only schedule that has been carefully tested, studied and reviewed by medical experts before being recommended for children.

“The vast majority of parents in Michigan and other states should be applauded for doing the right thing by following stay-at-home orders during the worst months of the pandemic, but most doctor’s offices now have procedures in place to ensure patients can safely come in for well visits and to get caught up on immunizations,” said Dr. Rachel Young, family medicine physician and clinic director of the McLaren Family Medicine Residency Clinic in Lansing.

For more information or to ask questions about vaccinations for children, go to IVaccinate.org.

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