Officials urge people to get their vaccines

Children, adults and people of low immunity can receive a variety of immunizations to help with the spreading of diseases. (Pioneer file photo)

MECOSTA COUNTY — Dangerous diseases may seem far away, but as part of Immunization Awareness Month, officials are reminding the public anyone in Michigan is susceptible to infectious diseases if proper precautions are not taken.

“Any epidemic is just a plane ride away,” Dan McGee, pediatric hospitalist at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital, said. “With travel, infectious diseases can reach Michigan in a matter of a few hours.”

Even in Mecosta County, there are a number of children who could potentially be at risk due to immunization waivers, which exempt kids from getting one or more vaccinations that would normally be required for children entering schools or daycare programs.

In Michigan, parents can get immunization waivers for their children on a philosophical, religious or medical basis.

According to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Mecosta County schools report waiver numbers as high as 19 percent, but most schools report numbers lower than 5 percent for the 2018-19 school year.

While it is possible for children to receive medical waivers, McGee said typically parents are seeking waivers for philosophical reasons.

“Michigan is one of few states that actually allows for philosophical immunization waivers,” McGee said. “There are few cases where anybody would actually need a waiver for a medical reason, so most of the time what you see is people not getting their kids vaccinated because of their personal beliefs.”

Data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows, as of 2018, students receiving philosophical immunization waivers make up 69.5 percent of waivers, while 25.3 percent of these students are receiving them for religious reasons. Only 5.2 percent of students receiving waivers have them for medical reasons.

“Getting vaccinated is a personal choice, but children don’t get to make that choice for themselves,” Gina Lynem-Walker, physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said. “You just don’t want to take that chance. Look at the facts. Protect yourself and other people.”

Lynem-Walker added early childhood immunizations protect people from 16 infectious diseases.

“Vaccines protect children from serious illnesses and complications of preventable diseases, which can include amputation of an arm or leg, hearing loss, brain damage, convulsions and death. Vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions available for preventing disease. They protect vaccinated individuals and protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases,” Roseann Sanders, Personal Health Supervisor for District Health Department No. 10, said.

The report from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also showed since 2015, the number of students receiving waivers has increased each year.

In 2015, 3.1 percent of students in Michigan received an immunization waiver. In 2018, the number increased to 3.8 percent.

The increase in waivers comes from the belief that vaccines can be harmful to children, Lynem-Walker explained.

“Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective by multiple studies over the course of many years,” she said.

Lynem-Walker added, while children can get vaccinated, adults can help improve immunity by receiving various vaccinations as well.

People who are 50 and older can receive a shingles vaccination, and people 60 and older can get a pneumonia vaccination.

Also, anyone six months and older can receive a yearly flu immunization to help prevent the spreading of influenza.

“Before considering not getting your child vaccinated, get away from the internet and talk to your physician,” McGee said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of people just don’t know all the facts.”

While children receive a variety of immunizations before entering school, anyone six months and older can receive an annual flu shot. (Pioneer file photo)

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Posted by Catherine Sweeney

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