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Michigan vaccination waiver rate drops

Woman getting a shot
Centers for Disease Control
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This 2006 image depicted an adolescent female in the process of receiving an intramuscular immunization in her left shoulder muscle, from a qualified nurse. The girl was assisting in the procedure by holding up her sleeve, while watching as the injection

Non-medical vaccination waiver rates for school kids are down significantly since this time last year.

Following a new state law starting in January 2015, the number of families obtaining vaccination waivers for their child is down 39% compared to a year ago – that’s roughly 8,000 fewer waivers this year, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The new law requires parents seeking a waiver to first meet with a health department official for a consultation.

Eden Wells, the MDHHS chief medical executive, said the consultations were intended to address parents’ valid concerns.

"Things had to adapt for a while, you know, once this rule went into effect,” she said. “But these weren't lectures."

The new law was in response to Michigan’s notably high vaccination waiver rate – the state was sixth in the country in 2014. This year the kindergarten waiver rate is 3.32%, down from 5.18%, and the seventh-grade rate is 2.78%, down from 4.55%.

Wells said it’s unlikely the consultation changed many minds, particularly not of those who are strictly anti-vaccination. However, requiring parents to visit a health services center helped by simply getting them to a location that offers vaccinations, whereas under the previous law parents could simply fill out the waiver at school and not make the trip.

Mary Wisinski is the supervisor of the Kent County Health Department’s immunization program. She said nurses are not instructed to try and change anyone’s mind, but rather to provide information.

“Our main message is 'Here's the information, do you want to talk about this, what are your questions,' and it's absolutely not about making them vaccinate their kids. That's their decision,” she said.

Many parents come to the meetings angry and hostile, she said, but often will leave with a better perspective. Wisinski added that health care specialists will address each parent’s individual concern, be it over vaccine safety, the ingredients of the shot, or issues over giving all shots at once.

Across the board, Wisinski said, a common grievance of parents is being told how to care for their child.

“The biggest thing is, ‘They’re my kids, big government can’t tell me what to do,’ ” she said. “It has nothing to do with whether they think vaccines are safe.”

State-issued pointers remind health care professionals to be respectful of people’s views and mindful of possible religious exemptions, while also providing answers to possible concerns.

Wells said she hopes waiver numbers continue to decline, emphasizing the health benefits of vaccinations. She added that it’s difficult to observe the effects of the trend in relationship to the number of flu cases, vaccinations help protect against potential disease outbreaks.

In recent years there have been outbreaks of diseases like measles, including incidents at Disneyland in California last year, and diagnosed cases in Michigan’s Oakland County. Wisinski said cases like these probably brought the issue “closer to home” for many parents, and encouraged them to seek more information.