measels virus

Oakland County vaccination exemption waivers are higher than average.

By Stacy Gittleman

Unless you’ve been living under a log, you know a measles outbreak has hit Oakland County, with 33 cases (as well as one in Wayne County) confirmed so far. Those stricken with the virus range in age from 8 months to 63.

Many of those who’ve got the measles have been Oakland County adults who thought they were vaccinated as children but, because they hadn’t had booster shots, didn’t have the necessary antibodies in their blood to protect themselves from the virus.

Health authorities also blame the outbreak, in part, on the lower-than-needed vaccination rates in the area. Officials say communities need to have around 95 percent of the population vaccinated against measles to stop its spread. Michigan is currently right at the cusp of that number, partly because some parents choose not to vaccinate their children for philosophical reasons.

In 2017, just 92.4 percent of schoolchildren in Wayne County were fully vaccinated. In Macomb County, that number was 91.7 percent, and in Oakland County just 90.3 percent, according to a report from MLive that compiled searchable data from 2017.

Local Jewish day schools have high rates of kindergarteners entering school vaccinated. According to the 2017 numbers, all kindergarteners at Farber (Oak Park) and Hillel (Farmington Hills) day schools were immunized. At Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Oak Park, only 1 out of 45 kindergarteners went to school without being vaccinated.

At Darchei Torah in Southfield, the numbers were a bit more concerning. In 2017, out of the school’s 27 admitted kindergarteners, three unvaccinated children attended school with waivers. And, according to 2014 data, among 73 Darchei Torah kindergarten, sixth grade and transfer students, 25 percent, or 18 students, received waivers.

Waivers Explained

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) requires schoolchildren to be immunized for 14 contagious diseases.

MDHHS requires that all schoolchildren receive two doses of the MMR vaccine after 12 months of age unless the parent files for a philosophical or religious waiver. As of 2014, Michigan was also one of 19 states that allow vaccination waivers for “philosophical” reasons, in addition to medical and religious exemptions.

Any Michigan parent or guardian who wants to claim a nonmedical waiver needs to receive education regarding the benefits of vaccination and the risks of disease from a county health department before obtaining the certified nonmedical waiver.

MDHHS documentation also states that during disease outbreaks, incompletely vaccinated students may be excluded from school.

Private schools do not have to accept waivers of any kind. Read more about waivers at www.michigan.gov/immunize.

County Statistics

According to a Metro Times article from February 2019, the city of Detroit has higher vaccination rates than wealthier surrounding school districts. The article stated that highly educated parts of Michigan are those where vaccine exemption waivers are the highest.

According to a Baylor University study, Oakland County has the fifth highest number of vaccination exemption waivers in the country.

In the Troy school district, waiver rates among kindergarteners, sixth graders and transfer students ranged between 3 and 29 percent with parochial and private schools having the highest percentage of students with waivers, according to 2017 MDHHS data.

In the Berkeley school district, waiver percentage rates were also running into the double digits at most schools, and no school hit the 95 percent benchmark for effective vaccination rates. Elementary schools in Oak Park and Huntington Woods neighborhoods, where the outbreak is the most severe, have some of the lowest vaccination rates in Oakland County, according to 2017 MDHHS statistics.

Among childcare centers, data shows 85 percent of enrolled children are completely vaccinated with 3.4 percent of children attending with waivers.

Oakland County’s latest quarterly immunization report card from December 2018 shows that only 75 percent of the county’s children between 19 and 35 months had received immunizations including the MMR vaccine, 5 percent below the state’s goal for 80 percent by 2020; and 4.8 percent of kindergarteners in Oakland County had parental vaccination waivers — above the state’s average rate of 3.6 percent.

Statewide, the number of parents seeking waivers has been rising. Overall immunization waivers for kindergarten students increased from 3.66 percent of children in 2016 to 4.2 percent in 2017. The percentage of children with an immunization waiver continues to be higher in private schools (7.91 percent) than public schools (3.88 percent).

Parents seeking transparency need not look any further than reports on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website to know where their child’s school or childcare center rates in how many kindergarteners, middle schoolers or transfer students are attending with immunization waivers.

LATEST UPDATE: As of April 5, 2019, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has confirmed five additional measles cases in Oakland County, bringing the state total to 39. Infected individuals range in age from eight months to 63 years. To view potential exposure sites, go to https://www.oakgov.com/health/news/Pages/measles-exposure-locations.aspx. For vaccination site information, click here.

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