Michigan Childhood Vaccination Rates Drop During Pandemic

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Health officials on Monday urged Michigan parents to make sure their children are caught up with non-COVID-19 vaccinations, which have slipped below a 70% rate during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the reasons that parents gave for not keeping their kids' vaccinations current over the past year have been concerns about the safety of going to health care facilities amid the virus threat, and a lack of transportation and child care options, doctors said during a virtual news conference.

The state's largest city, Detroit, and one of its least populous counties, Oscoda County, have the lowest childhood immunization rates, with each dropping below 50%, said Bob Swanson, Immunization Division director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan largely missed out on flu outbreaks during the past year because of social distancing, and there have been fewer vaccine preventable diseases. But once people start traveling and dropping their guards, Swanson said he fears for populations that have been left vulnerable by low vaccination rates.

“We know how communicable things like measles or pertussis are, and how quickly they can spread to anybody who’s not vaccinated. So it just takes one case to get into a susceptible population that we’ll see that spread,” Swanson said. "I don’t want to get to that point. These diseases can be deadly and we want to be able to get people vaccinated prevent that from happening.”

People younger than 16 years old can't currently get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Michigan avoided a “ twindemic ” as the state encouraged a surge in flu vaccines to limit the impact of COVID-19, said Rachel Young, clinical medical director at McLaren Family Medicine Residency Clinic. She said she's seen a surge in interest in vaccinations as the state has scrambled to get COVID-19 appointments, but said parents need encouragement that offices are safe and they ought to catch their children up as soon as possible.

“It’s critical that we try to prevent another surge of preventable diseases before we open up the state and the country,” Young said. “We're here, we are open, we are ready to see you and ready to get your children safe.”

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.