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State urges children get vaccinated before going back to school

Backpack, check. Notebooks, check. Pencils and pens, check.

What about vaccinations before going back into that virus-swapping arena called school?

As the start of classes approaches, Michigan health officials have urged families to make sure children are up-to-date on all immunizations.

Physicians, nurses and public health experts said Michiganders should take steps now, before winter and the start of school, to protect themselves and their children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Vaccines protect our children from serious and preventable diseases,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief deputy director for health and chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Now is the time to visit your local health department or family doctor for immunizations, to help your kids start the school year on the right foot.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently designated August as Immunization Awareness Month in Michigan.

“As Michigan continues to face outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, it’s more important than ever that people make sure they are up to date on immunizations,” Whitmer said. “I encourage people of all ages to talk with their health care providers about the vaccines necessary to protect their health and the health of their families.”

Michigan and 29 other states continue to battle the country’s worst measles outbreak in decades, with more than 1,172 individual cases of measles confirmed nationwide. Michigan has seen 46 cases of measles since the outbreak began in March. The state continues to have hundreds of cases of whooping cough, mumps and chickenpox each year, as well as other vaccine-preventable diseases.

When less than 90 percent of children are vaccinated in a particular community, pockets of low vaccination create an environment where diseases can take hold and spread. Areas with more vaccination waivers mean fewer children in the community are vaccinated and the community may not be protected by community immunity.

Waivers can be problematic if unvaccinated kids are clustered in one area at the building level. Nearly 400 public and private kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and 295 daycare programs in Michigan had 10 percent or more of their students submit a vaccine waiver form in lieu of immunization records in 2017, state records show.

“As a parent, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating impacts of vaccine-preventable diseases coming back in Michigan,” said Veronica Valentine McNally, founder of the Franny Strong Foundation. “We founded the Franny Strong Foundation and I Vaccinate campaign to provide tools and resources to answer parents’ questions and help protect families from experiencing these illnesses themselves.”

The IVaccinate.org website has been visited more than 240,000 times, averaging about 1,500 visits per week. The website includes recommended vaccination schedules, Michigan-specific resources and a frequently asked questions section, where parents can find answers to common questions based on credible medical research and sources to learn more.

The I Vaccinate campaign is a joint public-private effort of the MDHHS and the Franny Strong Foundation. The campaign highlights the medical consensus that vaccines are safe and effective at preventing disease and protect entire communities from outbreaks. The campaign aims to create a positive conversation about vaccines and the reasons why most parents do fully vaccinate their children.

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