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Some parents of unvaccinated kids might be waiting for schools to force them to get waivers

Sep 13, 2015

So far, fewer Michigan kids are getting vaccine waivers. But some parents may be waiting until schools kick kids out.
Credit VCU CNS

Christina Karpinski is getting a little worried.

She's the immunizations coordinator for Washtenaw County, and she knows there are hundreds of families out there who still need vaccine waivers for their kids.

But even though school started this week, those parents just aren't showing up.

"We don't have appointments being scheduled," Karpinski says. "We had a Saturday clinic set up for tomorrow, where we had four staff members doing waivers for five hours, and we have four people coming in for a waiver. So we know there are people who need these waivers, and they're choosing not to come in for whatever reason." 

Karpinski thinks some of those parents might be trying to make a political stand by waiting until more county schools start excluding kids who don't have vaccination records or waivers.

"So what we've heard from parents who have come in for waivers is, 'we know there are parents in the community who have decided to wait until the school forces them to get their waiver, by excluding them from school."

"So what we've heard from parents who have come in for waivers is, 'we know there are parents in the community who have decided to wait until the school forces them to get their waiver, by excluding them from school,'" she says.

Students should have vaccinations by Day 1, but that's not always enforced

Students are supposed to have their immunization records or their waivers on file by the first day of school.

That's in the public health code.

But districts are all over the map in terms of when that's actually enforced.

Grand Rapids Public Schools give families a 30-day grace period to get their records together. Ann Arbor and Saline schools say they don't know what their firm exclusion date is just yet, but it's probably sometime in mid-October.

But in Genessee County, it looks like that first-day-of-school rule is being more strictly enforced. 

Jori July is the Public Health Nursing Supervisor for Immunizations in Genesee County.

She says they've been swamped by parents who waited until the last minute to get the waivers after realizing they wouldn't be allowed to attend school without them.

"I had one mother of four children tell my front window [staff] that if she couldn't get the waiver in time, she'd drop her kids off at school anyways and say 'whoops, I forgot!'"

"We've had later clinics and extra clinics and staff staying late," July says. "I had one mother of four children tell my front window [staff] that if she couldn't get the waiver in time, she'd drop her kids off at school anyways and say 'whoops, I forgot!'" 

Kent County and Oakland County health department staff say they’ve also heard from families who were told they’d be excluded from school if they didn’t get the waivers ASAP.

Soon, it could be tougher to get the waivers

"These evening clinics and Saturday clinics are not going to be available [after September 30th,]" says Chris Karpinski, the Washtenaw County immunizations coordinator.

That's when state grant money to help counties implement the new waiver system runs out.

Which means that any parent in Washtenaw County who wants a vaccination waiver after September 30th, will have to see if the county can fit them in.

"So parents are going to have a really hard time getting in to our normal business hours during the week, because we still have to do everything else we're required to do," Karpinski says. "This waiver stuff is on top of that, so we fit it in where we can."

"Kids, they want to go to school, they want to see their friends. They want to hopefully learn something. And if they don't have this piece of paper, they're not going to be able to do that."

“Kids, they want to go to school. They want to see their friends. They want to hopefully learn something. And if they don’t have this piece of paper, they’re not going to be able to do that.”

So far, it looks like fewer kids are getting the waivers

Which is exactly what the new policy was intended to do.

This is the first year that all Michigan counties are requiring parents who want these waivers to get them at the county health department – rather than getting them through schools, when they were often signed at the last moment as a matter of convenience.

Parents also have to sit through individual, 20-30 minute vaccine education sessions with health department staff.

Several of Michigan’s biggest counties say they’re seeing significantly fewer waivers as compared to last year.

Here’s an approximate tally of where things stand in a few of them:

GENESEE COUNTY:

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 420

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 1,100

KENT COUNTY

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 609

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 1,100

MACOMB COUNTY

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 1,400

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 3,000

OAKLAND COUNTY

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 2,400

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 4,400

 WASHTENAW

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 650

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 1,200

WAYNE COUNTY:

Nonmedical waivers so far this year: 1,700

Total nonmedical waivers last year: 4,000