St. Clair County to change vaccination waiver policy

Vaccination Waivers

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

Soon parents and guardians will have to take into account a few more considerations before they seek a vaccination waiver for their child in St. Clair County.

The vaccination waiver policy will change to reflect proposed state legislation, which will require parents fill out additional paperwork and take a class.

Jennifer Michaluk, St. Clair County Health Department spokeswoman, said the discussion regarding immunization waivers came about after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in August 2013 citing concerns about children who had not been vaccinated.

“The changes will affect the 2015 school year and will be implemented after education is provided to our school partners and medical provider community,” Michaluk said in an email. “The St. Clair County Health Department expects to implement this policy change by the spring of 2015.”

The policy affects all children attending child-care, preschool and elementary schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

“Parents need to know that nearly 45 percent of Michigan residents live in a county at risk for disease outbreaks,” Michaluk said. “St. Clair County is one of 21 counties where the vaccine waiver rate for kindergartners is 7.1 percent or higher. The waiver rate for kindergartners in St. Clair County is 10 percent.”

A medical worker prepares a vaccination for the flu. (Matt Nager | Bloomberg)

A medical worker prepares a vaccination for the flu. (Matt Nager | Bloomberg)

Other counties in Michigan such as Huron, Lapeer, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties already have enacted similar policies and have seen a significant reduction in the overall waiver rate for the county.

Michaluk said St. Clair County hopes to follow suit and decrease the number of waivers due to lack of knowledge or inaccurate vaccine information.

While the vaccinations that are required vary between each state, Michigan requires immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, meningococcal and varicella.

The dosage for those vaccinations also differs with age, as children at a younger age do not require the meningococcal immunization.

According to the CDC, Michigan has one of the highest vaccine-waiver rates for kindergartners in the country and the number has continued to grow.

If a parent decides not to go through the additional steps for the updated waiver policy once it is enacted, Michaluk said there is a chance the student could be kept out of school as state law requires all children to be assessed annually for immunization status.

“There is a possibility that a child could be excluded from school if the parent does not follow the waiver policy,” she said. “State law requires schools to assess a child’s immunization status at kindergarten, seventh grade and any child that is new to a school district.”

Margaret Sturgis, nursing supervisor at the county health department, said the policy will hopefully give parents the appropriate information before choosing whether or not to get a vaccine waiver for their child.

“Although enforcement of mandatory immunization requirements for children entering childcare and school has resulted in increased immunization coverage levels over the years, several recent disease outbreaks were traced to pockets of un-vaccinated persons in communities,” Sturgis said.

There were several cases of chicken pox at Yale Public Schools in 2012.

What the health department discovered was most of the cases involved children who had not been vaccinated. Sturgis said the result of the outbreak led to the exclusion of those students until vaccinations were received or immunity was verified.

This year, Sturgis said, the U.S. is experiencing the most measles cases since it was removed from the list of active diseases in 2000. As of Oct. 31 of this year, there were 603 cases of measles reported.

Sturgis said most of the cases reported this year were in people who had not been vaccinated or those with an unknown vaccination status.

“The large number of measles cases emphasizes the need for heightened awareness of the potential for measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases among those who are un-vaccinated,” Sturgis said. “As vaccine waiver rates in St. Clair County continue to rise, so too will the potential for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in our community.”

Residents react to policy

Kim Rooker, of Macomb Township, said she believes vaccinations are necessary when it comes to children.

“We have worked really hard to develop these vaccines and they are there for a reason,” Rooker said. “The patients don’t quite understand generally the implications of not receiving vaccines, so I think it’s important for them to be educated on what happens if they choose not to receive them.”

Rooker said she understands why some parents might not want their children to have the required vaccinations, but the end result is worth the aggravation.

“There has been talk that vaccines cause autism, or they ask why inject something in your body if you’re not sick?” Rooker said. “We’ve eradicated a lot of diseases this way. They only come back when people are not vaccinated.”

Columbus Township resident Chuck Wansedel is a father of four children who range in age from 15 to 24 years old and knows the amount of vaccinations schools require.

While it is not a hindrance for Wansedel and his wife to get vaccinations for their children, he does think there shouldn’t be so many steps in getting a waiver.

“People should have more control over their personal health,” he said. “It probably creates a consistent environment in the schools, but I don’t know if it is fiscally practical to get all their kids immunized.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 10, 2014)

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