Lack of shots leading to disease outbreaks

Fewer parents are getting their kids vaccinated in Michigan. Health leaders are speaking out about the importance of immunization.

Physicians and nurses observed the start of National Infant Immunization Week Tuesday. A growing number of parents opting out of getting their kids vaccinated, so doctors are getting the word out.

Michigan parents are among the most likely in the nation to choose not to get their kids vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Michigan has the fourth highest non-medical exemption rate for immunizations at 5.3-percent.

That figure worries staff in the medical field because those diseases, although preventable, are on the rise.

â??There's mumps in Ohio. There's measles in New York and California,â?? said Wendy Trute of the Grand Traverse County Health Department. â??It's a decision that shouldn't be made lightly.â??

In Grand Traverse County, eleven percent of parentsâ??nearly twice the state averageâ??have signed waivers, exempting their school-aged kids from vaccines for medical, philosophical or religious reasons.

â??That's our biggest concern. Once you hit the school age, it's not just an individual decision. You are potentially affecting classmates, teachers who may be immune-compromised, pregnant women,â?? said Trute.

One reason doctors give for parents opting out of vaccinations is that this generation hasn't really experienced the diseases.

â??I know that when families make that choice, they're very well-intended and they want to do the best they can for their children,â?? said Dr. Cynthia Smith, Pediatrician at Kids Creek Childrenâ??s Clinic. â??Families just don't see the diseases, so they're not real to them. So you don't think about whooping cough, you don't think about meningitis.â??

Health care professionals say those diseases should be on parentsâ?? radar.

â??Last year alone, Michigan saw nearly one-thousand cases of whooping cough. That's up nearly 18-percent from the year before,â?? said Debra McGuire, CEO of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. â??Vaccinations help protect our kids from dangerous infectious diseases, like measles, mumps, rubella, and several more.â??

There's a growing amount of information online, weighing the pros and cons of vaccinations, but for many doctors, the choice is clear.

â??The connection to autism has been thoroughly disproven and the initial research that suggested that as a possibility has been completely discredited and withdrawn,â?? explained Smith. â??A prick from a needle is no fun, but those diseases are terrible. I've seen them. It would be really nice if I never saw them again.â??

The healthcare professionals referenced in this story all recommended sitting down with your family doctor to figure out what's right for your kids.

â??We try to explore with families what specific things they're concerned about,â?? said Smith.

The Grand Traverse County Health Department can also help answer questions. It has expanded hours and accepts walk-ins.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, only 72-percent of Michigan children are fully immunized. They recommend parents complete the entire series of immunizations.

â??The goal, statewide, is to get people up to 85-percent. That would be for optimal coverage. That would give the best protection,â?? said Trute.

â??I'm really worried that it will take a disease really injuring, even killing, children before those disease become real again,â?? said Smith.

â??It's unfortunate because it's preventable,â?? said McGuire.