Opinion: Get vaccines to prevent other diseases during pandemic

Brian Peters, Jeffrey Postlewaite and S. Bobby Mukkamala

COVID-19 has disrupted Michigan’s health care system and economy, causing economic hardships and human suffering at levels no one imagined even six months ago. 

All agree Michigan can’t afford another widespread economic shutdown. There is also broad agreement that Michigan’s health care system would crumble under a second wave of COVID-19 accompanied by a concurrent outbreak of a second communicable disease.

Many steps are being taken in Michigan to head off or better manage a second wave of COVID-19. However, there is another looming and growing public health threat that could expose Michigan’s economy and health care system to an outbreak of a second communicable disease. 

Vaccines are safe and effective for the vast majority of people, the authors write.

Since COVID-19 rocked our nation and state in early March, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show Michigan’s vaccination rates for children ages 18 and younger have dropped more than 20%, going from about two-thirds to less than half of children. This alarming decline has left Michigan communities vulnerable to outbreaks of other potentially deadly illnesses.

Let us be clear: there is complete agreement in the United States and world medical community that vaccines are safe and effective for the vast majority of people. Gaps in vaccinations lead to pockets of low immunity — opportunities for illnesses to spread across communities and states.

We are calling on the state Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to protect Michigan’s health care system and economy by supporting public education efforts that will drive the state’s vaccination rates up again. Specifically, we are calling on lawmakers in Lansing to continue their strong bipartisan support for the "I Vaccinate" public education campaign, just as they have done for four years.

"I Vaccinate" is a public-private partnership between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the nonprofit Franny Strong Foundation. Before COVID-19 forever changed our lives, "I Vaccinate" was helping to increase Michigan’s childhood immunization rates after more than two decades of decline. In 2017, when the campaign launched, Michigan ranked 47th in childhood vaccination coverage, according to CDC National Immunization Survey data. By 2019, Michigan had improved to 29th, with the amount of fully immunized children climbing each year. 

After COVID-19 hit with a vengeance, Michigan and many states implemented necessary and strict life-saving actions to contain the spread. For those actions, we applaud our elected officials and will be forever grateful. As a result, many states — including Michigan — experienced steep declines in the number of people traveling to the doctor or local public health facilities to be vaccinated, and to have their children vaccinated. Many states — including Michigan — have seen immunization rates plummet.

At a time of much uncertainty about COVID-19 — and with a potential vaccine being anticipated — Michigan residents need a reliable, safe and unbiased resource to turn to for their vaccine questions. Information shared through "I Vaccinate" is based 100% on medical science and facts vetted by local, state, federal and international public health and immunization experts, physicians and nurses.

The IVaccinate.org website and social media channels applaud parents for asking questions and seeking credible information. "I Vaccinate" is supported by nearly every physician and nursing organization in Michigan, all local and state public health agencies, the CDC, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and all Michigan hospitals.

Hospitals, doctors and public health experts are warning that like our economy, Michigan’s health care system is ill-prepared to handle two major disease outbreaks at once. "I Vaccinate" helps people learn about and access vaccines that check the spread of additional communicable diseases that could strike at the same time as a second wave of COVID-19.

Vaccines save millions of dollars in health care costs. Every dollar invested in vaccinations yields $3 in direct benefits, and $10 in benefits when societal costs are included, according to the CDC. "I Vaccinate" is needed now more than ever to protect Michigan’s economy and health care system from communicable disease outbreaks and pandemics.

Brian Peters is CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. Jeffrey Postlewaite, DO, is president of the Michigan Osteopathic Association. S. Bobby Mukkamala, MD, is president of the Michigan State Medical Society.