The Michigan Academy of Family Physicians sounded the alarm on Monday over declining immunization rates for preventable childhood diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have seen a 6% drop in toddler vaccinations in Michigan over the past two years, which is alarming,” said Dr. Delicia Pruitt, medical director for the Saginaw County Health Department. “As it stands, 32% of Michigan toddlers are at risk for preventable illnesses because their immunizations are not up to date.
“For children of color, children living in poverty, and those who are uninsured and covered by Medicaid, these rates are even lower. This makes the disparities in health outcomes between segments of our communities even greater. .”
The pandemic has interrupted regular visits to the doctor
The problem started, she says, with the pandemic.
“People weren’t able to visit their primary care physician for in-person appointments for things like vaccinations,” said Pruitt, who is also a family physician at Saginaw and an associate professor at the College. of Medicine from Central Michigan University.
“But now we can connect in person again and it’s time and long overdue that we do all we can to protect our children and the most vulnerable in our communities from preventable disease by catching up on our vaccinations.”
Global coverage for series of primary vaccines for children in Michigan, which includes vaccines that prevent measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, haemophilus influenzae, hepatitis, polio, chickenpox and pneumonia, fell to 68 .5% in the first quarter of 2022. That’s down about 6.5% since July 2019, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
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Among Michigan adolescents, coverage of state-recommended vaccines fell to 72.9% during the same period – about 4 percentage points, according to state data.
While that doesn’t seem like a big drop, Dr. Glenn Dregansky, president of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, said every case matters.
“Without the protection of vaccines, diseases such as measles, whooping cough, COVID-19, and even seasonal flu can easily spread,” Dregansky said.
Measles is so contagious that for every person who has it, up to nine out of ten people around them will get measles if they are not fully vaccinated, Pruitt said.
“The virus that causes measles causes fever and rashes and, in the most severe cases, swelling of the brain, which can lead to permanent brain damage and death,” she said.
Whooping cough, also known as whooping cough, is also contagious “and poses a significant threat to babies,” Pruitt said. “Without proper vaccination, data shows that half of babies infected with whooping cough end up in hospital and 1 in 100 infected babies die. Children who are not vaccinated against the disease are eight times more likely to contract whooping cough than children who receive all recommended doses of vaccine.”
“We must overcome this fear” of vaccinations
Misinformation, especially on social media, has compounded an already growing problem of vaccine hesitancy in the United States and eroded trust in government institutions, he said.
“Parents are afraid to get vaccinated in a certain way because they’re worried it will harm their baby,” Dregansky said. “The worst thing that can happen to a parent is if something happens to their baby.
“We have to overcome that fear. That’s why the relationship, the longitudinal relationship that family doctors and pediatricians have, over time, helps alleviate that fear. So that’s one of the ways to overcome the fear.”
People who don’t have a trusted relationship with a primary care physician may not have a reliable resource for vaccine information, he said, and too many parents today don’t know. not how devastating many of these diseases can be.
“People aren’t afraid of … vaccine-preventable diseases because we haven’t had huge outbreaks in decades,” he said.
“When I was in training…about every two months we would lose a baby or young child to bacterial meningitis which is completely preventable now because vaccines are so effective. So at some respects, we are victims of the quality of our And now it has been two generations and parents are no longer afraid of these diseases, so it is very difficult to overcome this.
Concern over the reappearance of poliomyelitis
He is particularly concerned about polio, which was thought to be eradicated in the United States. But last month, a person from Rockland County, New York, was the first to contract the virus in a decade in the United States. Polio was detected in sewage samples from early June in Rockland County, suggesting the virus could be spreading among unvaccinated people.
“We should be extremely concerned,” Dregansky said, noting that there are few treatments for these illnesses once a person is ill with them.
“If a child gets polio, there is nothing we can do to prevent paralysis,” he said. Now, most people who get polio don’t get a catastrophic disease, but we don’t know why some people do. We don’t know why some people get catastrophic illness with COVID. Prevention is the key.”
Dregansky, born in 1953, said he remembered his grandmother crying when he and his brother were vaccinated against polio.
“She was so scared that her grandsons would be paralyzed like other children,” he said. “She’s seen children paralyzed and die of polio. The worst thing about polio is that if it doesn’t kill you, it paralyzes your spinal cord and then you end up on a ventilator for the rest of your life. or you end up with all these complications.
“I treated post-polio syndrome. It’s a terrible and painful disease. So my parents and my grandparents were literally happy when vaccines came because they were so afraid of the disease.
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“Because we don’t fear these diseases, it’s inevitable. If you don’t know history, it will repeat itself. And that’s the phase we’re in now. … The window (for action) is now. If we don’t start vaccinations, there will be epidemics.”
The vaccination rate is not high enough in Michigan for people to be protected by herd immunity in the event of an outbreak of most of these childhood vaccine-preventable diseases, Dregansky said.
“I don’t know if we have, frankly, more herd immunity because of this tendency to not get people vaccinated,” he said. “For herd immunity, it depends on the disease. Some diseases, 80-85% of the population need to be immunized. For other diseases, like measles, it’s over 90%. And we don’t. we’re not here.”
Dr. Beena Nagapalla, medical director of community health at Ascension Southeast Michigan, urged parents to make sure their children are up to date on all of their vaccines.
“As vaccination rates plummet, especially among children, the health of our communities is put at risk,” she said. “Now is the time to reverse this trend before it has disastrous results.”
Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@free press.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.