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Michigan adds new requirement for parents who want vaccine waivers

Dec 12, 2014

Incidence of measles in the United States
Credit CDC/wikimedia

Beginning Jan. 1, Michigan parents will have to get a certificate from their local health department if they want to opt out of vaccinating their children. The certificate will state they were told about the risks of not vaccinating, both for their kids and the greater community.

Call it a lecture, although the Michigan Department of Community Health is calling it "a conversation."

Michigan has one of the highest vaccine waiver rates in the nation. Michigan allows parents with a "philosophical" objection to vaccines to enroll their children in school. Many other states will only allow a waiver for a religious objection.

The risks are indeed real. This month two unvaccinated children from Traverse City traveled to the Philippines, which is in the midst of a measles epidemic. They caught the measles, and upon their return, infected three other unvaccinated children in Traverse City.

Measles typically involves symptoms similar to the flu, including a high fever, followed by a rash that starts on the face and spreads over the entire body.

It is usually just a very unpleasant illness for a child. But complications are not uncommon, and the complications can be severe and life-threatening. Complications can include pneumonia, encephalytis, hospitalization, and death.

A measles outbreak in the U.S. in 1989 resulted in 11,000 hospitalizations and 123 deaths, many of them children.

Rates of vaccination among school-age children are dropping, in part because some parents find claims on the Internet that vaccines cause autism.    

While vaccines are not entirely risk-free, a preponderance of scientific studies show vaccines do not cause autism.

Yet the misinformation continues to be widely disseminated by anti-vaccine organizations.

Health officials worry about another severe outbreak if vaccination rates continue to drop. High rates of vaccination can usually protect a few unvaccinated individuals from getting an illness like measles. It's known as "herd immunity." 

The CDC illustrates herd immunity this way:

Illustration showing what happens in a population that is mostly unvaccinated, versus mostly vaccinated.
Credit Center for Disease Control and Prevention