Detroit Today

A Deeper Look At Vaccination Fears in Michigan

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Graphic courtesy: MLive

Three counties in metro Detroit have immunization rates of school-aged children below 90 percent. Ninety percent is the threshold sited by experts as achieving herd immunity, which best protects vulnerable populations that can't vaccinate from getting sick.

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes clear its position that vaccinating children on schedule is important to maintaining public and individual health. From the AAP: "Whether it's a childhood MMR vaccine or an adolescent pertussis booster, these simple procedures can save lives.”

Medical professionals say fear is a driving force for many parents who don't vaccinate their children.

Melissa Mason is a mother of four who wanted to raise her children using natural parenting techniques such as cloth-diapering, baby-wearing, and natural medicine. Mason was overwhelmed by the number of vaccines that infants receive early in life, and of the litany of chemicals used to make vaccines.

“There is nothing more perfect in the world than a newborn baby,” Mason says. “So to go from having that baby to having their first vaccination within days of birth it is a scary thought to put that into your child."

Mason delayed the AAP vaccination schedule for her second child, and when she had twin baby girls she was unsure what her vaccination approach would be.

But then a cough began to spread through her neighborhood. And her family. The twin infants coughed and choked for air for six months, and one girl was hospitalized with pneumonia. The twins were diagnosed with pertussis, a preventable disease if vaccinated.

Mason's twins made full recoveries, and she changed her mind about vaccinations. Her kids are now on the full AAP immunization schedule.

But Mason still recognizes why and what set her on a course to not vaccinate her children. When she raised concerns with her doctor over vaccinations, she says his attitude was “very dismissive.” Without a doctor who was able to discuss her fears and put them to rest, Mason was put off.

“After the diagnosis of pertussis and we went and started vaccinating, we found a doctor addressed all our concerns and sat down and explained everything to us,” she says. “We felt really comfortable from there on out."

Photo by Michael Ference

Public health nurse Constance Robinson says inaccurate information is the most common reason people neglect children immunization. She says doctors need to listen to parental concerns wholeheartedly and give clear explanations about why vaccinations are necessary. She acknowledges that the schedule of vaccines does appear overwhelming, but there is important medical science that determines the schedule.

“The CDC has done studies and it shows that when we give children these vaccinations on the schedule as should be that the immune system gives a greater response and they have a greater antibody count to fight off these diseases,” Robinson says. “When parents try to piecemeal the vaccines and just get a few here and a few there then that makes us drive that immune system up every single time that we are giving this kid a vaccine and that is not the best protection that we found is adequate for children."

Robinson stresses that everyday we are all at risk of exposure to thousands of diseases, and if a child has not been vaccinated they could be susceptible to catch a disease they could have avoided. She also says parents not knowing anyone who has suffered from the diseases that we vaccinate for, such as polio, can affect the decision parents make around vaccination.

MLive took a comprehensive look at vaccination through its series "Spreading Danger". In the series, experts say vaccination waivers in Michigan are putting the state at risk. The state average for immunization waivers for school-aged children is about six percent. Here are the approximate vaccination rates for kids in metro Detroit counties, as provided by MLive:

Livingston: 86% Macomb: 92% Oakland: 87% Washtenaw: 88% Wayne (excluding Detroit): 90% Detroit proper: 92%

You can look up vaccination rates in your county, and learn more about immunization in Michigan here.

And here's a timeline chronicling the history of vaccination: