Outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases like measles, along with media coverage of those who refuse to vaccinate, have focused fresh attention on unvaccinated children and on parents who use the Michigan immunization waiver form to opt out of recommended shots.
Health officials urge parents to vaccinate their children.
“As we are seeing with the recent outbreak in California, measles is a highly communicable disease that can affect both children and adults,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, the former chief medical executive with the Michigan Department of Community Health. “The best way to protect our families and communities against measles is to get vaccinated.”
In 2014, changes were made to the Michigan vaccination laws for receiving non-medical immunization waivers. The Michigan immunization waiver form will no longer be available from schools or childcare programs, but rather through their local health department. The rule applies to all public and private schools and programs in Michigan.
Obtaining a waiver form
Parents or guardians seeking a Michigan immunization waiver form for non-medical reasons will need to:
- Contact their county health department to receive immunization waiver education and to obtain a certified State of Michigan Immunization Waiver Form
- Take the certified State of Michigan Immunization Waiver Form to their child’s school or childcare center
“The policy of having parents come into the health department for a waiver ensures accurate information,” says Pamela Hackert, medical director and chief of Medical Services for the Oakland County Health Department.
In these short education sessions, Hackert says parents have the opportunity to get questions answered and have vaccine concerns addressed. She pointed out parents need to come to the health department only if they are seeking a waiver for reasons other than medical need.
“If your child has a medical reason for not receiving a vaccine, a physician must sign the State of Michigan Medical Contraindication form,” Hackert says. Forms for medical waivers are only available at doctor’s offices – not at schools or local health departments.
Jennifer Eisner, former public information officer for Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) notes that students who provided an immunization waiver to schools in at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year will not be required to attend the information classes to obtain another waiver at this time. However, “if those students transfer to another school or to another district, parents would have to attend the class if they want a non-medical waiver,” Eisner says.
Health officials say that Michigan has one of the highest immunization waiver rates in the country, with some counties reporting waiver rates as high as 20 percent. In addition, MDCH has found that some individual school buildings have higher waiver rates than others. Using a waiver means that children have not received one or more of the recommended vaccines or met the Michigan immunization requirements.
Although measles was considered eliminated from the United States in 2000, infected travelers continue to bring the disease into the U.S.
Hackert says that current recommendations call for a measles shot be given to persons traveling in measles infected areas. She says that in those cases, infants as young as 6 months old may receive the vaccine.
In 2014, there were five measles cases statewide. Smith says that MDCH “works closely with the local health departments” to monitor measles (and other communicable diseases). In January 2015, a single case of an adult diagnosed with measles in Oakland County was confirmed. Smith says that at this time, there have been no further reported cases of measles in Michigan.
Aside from the current nationwide measles outbreak, Hackert points out that some of the vaccine-preventable diseases still circulating include pertussis (whooping cough), mumps and chicken pox. “We’re seeing an increase in pertussis cases,” she says. According to MDCH, pertussis cases peaked in 2010 at 1,500. In 2011, there were 691 cases in Michigan and by 2012 the number had risen to 847. Hackert notes that pertussis is particularly serious for infants under 1 year of age. In 2012, one infant died of pertussis in Michigan.
“Hand washing is tremendously important and cough etiquette is very important to stop the spread of measles and other diseases,” Hackert says.
Still have questions regarding vaccines, and are on the fence about vaccinating your child? Read our July 2015 article on vaccines.
This article was originally published in February 2015 and is updated regularly.