Editorial: News flash - vaccines prevent outbreaks
Maybe this is what it’s going to take to wake up parents who’ve decided they know better than their doctors. The quickly spreading measles outbreak in Oakland County is needless. Infectious diseases once thought eradicated in the U.S. are roaring back as growing numbers of children aren’t getting shots.
It’s really that simple.
The numbers keep rising (because measles is extremely contagious among unvaccinated people), and recent totals are 33 cases in Oakland County and one in Wayne County. The outbreak started after one infected individual from Israel visited several different locations in the county last month.
Michigan isn’t alone in battling the measles. Other states, including Illinois, New York, Washington and California, have also reported outbreaks, totaling 387 cases this year.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, this is the highest number of measles in the state since 1991 when 65 cases were reported.
The medical community isn’t shocked that Oakland County is getting hit. In fact, it was predicted.
As The Detroit News reported, a Baylor University study showed that Oakland County had the fifth largest number of vaccination exemptions in the U.S.
And state data shows Oakland ranks 66th worst out of Michigan’s 83 counties and the city of Detroit for the number of vaccine waivers.
Many of Metro Detroit’s wealthiest communities are in Oakland County, so this isn't an issue of access to proper medical care.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective way to avoid the diseases, and health officials strongly encourage parents to follow vaccination guidelines. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are 97% effective in preventing infections.
Since measles is so contagious, it spreads easily in areas with higher levels of unvaccinated individuals, and this places newborns and others who can’t have vaccines for medical reasons at a huge risk.
Health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin says since the outbreak began, more than 2,000 doses of the measles vaccine have been given.
Several years ago, the health department made it more difficult for parents to obtain vaccine waivers for school-aged children, since Michigan had one of the highest waiver rates at that time.
If parents seek a waiver, they must now speak with a health care professional before the state will grant it.
For instance, in 2014, there were 20,000 shot waivers, but in 2017, there were around 8,000. So that’s progress.
But this latest outbreak highlights that more must be done to educate parents.
Dr. S. Bobby Mukkamala, board chair of the Michigan State Medical Society, says these outbreaks are symptomatic of lower rates of vaccination. Without “herd immunity,” where at least 95% of a population is vaccinated, the community is endangered.
Parents seek vaccine waivers for a variety of reasons, but “philosophical” reasons far outweigh medical or religious concerns. Mukkamala says parents shouldn’t make decisions “based on something that pops up on social media.”
Some things have to be cyclical by nature, Mukkamala says, but easily preventable infectious diseases like polio and measles shouldn’t be.
Parents, please vaccinate your children.