Vaccination waivers: New Mich. rule reignites the debate – Detroit Free Press
A new state rule requiring parents to attend a class at their local health department if they want a vaccination waiver for their kids before school starts is reigniting the debate over mandatory vaccinations.
The rule applies to children entering a licensed day care, a preschool, the Head Start program, kindergarten, seventh grade or enrolling in a new school district.
The goal? Slash the number of vaccination waivers in Michigan, which has the fourth-highest rate of waivers in the nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Any parent who wants a waiver for philosophical or religious reasons must attend a session. Parents who have a medical waiver arenÃ¢Â€Â™t required.
Ã¢Â€ÂœWe need to have this rule to help parents get as much information as they can to make the most informed decision regarding whether or not theyÃ¢Â€Â™re going to vaccinate their child,Ã¢Â€Â said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Statewide, 5.9% (or 7,049) of Michigan children entering kindergarten in 2013 had vaccine waivers, according to the CDC. But thereÃ¢Â€Â™s considerable variation by county. Leelanau County had the highest rate at 19.5%, while Keweenaw County had the lowest, with no waivers. The rates for metro Detroit counties: Macomb, 6.9%; Oakland, 10.1%; Washtenaw, 7.2%, and Wayne, 7.1%. The rate for the city of Detroit was 2.3%.
Ã¢Â€ÂœInfection can spread pretty rapidly among schoolchildren,Ã¢Â€Â Wells said. Ã¢Â€ÂœWhat will happen is even if the non-vaccinated child isnÃ¢Â€Â™t sick … they may be asked to stay out of school until the outbreak is over. And that could mean a couple of weeks out of school.Ã¢Â€Â
Tina Thurston of Walled Lake was dreading her Aug. 3 session, worried that sheÃ¢Â€Â™d be berated by the nurse conducting the session for opting against vaccinations and pressured into changing her mind. But she found the opposite to be the case.
Ã¢Â€ÂœShe didnÃ¢Â€Â™t discredit my points,Ã¢Â€Â said Thurston, who received a medical waiver for one son and a philosophical waiver for her oldest son. Ã¢Â€ÂœShe counter-argued them politely.Ã¢Â€Â
But while sheÃ¢Â€Â™s not opposed to the information being presented to parents, Ã¢Â€ÂœI am opposed that theyÃ¢Â€Â™re questioning my rights as a parent or my belief system.Ã¢Â€Â
Suzanne Waltman, president of Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines, said parents opting not to vaccinate their children Ã¢Â€Âœare doing it because they have studied the issues, both pro and con, and are making a very educated decision.Ã¢Â€Â
Waltman said she doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t believe the required sessions will change minds and isnÃ¢Â€Â™t Ã¢Â€Âœan effective way to improve vaccination rates. Everyone deserves to make health care choices.Ã¢Â€Â
State and local officials say changing parentsÃ¢Â€Â™ minds isnÃ¢Â€Â™t what theyÃ¢Â€Â™re after.
Ã¢Â€ÂœWeÃ¢Â€Â™re still not taking away the option for those parents who are adamant about signing the waivers,Ã¢Â€Â said Dr. Kevin Lokar, medical director at the Macomb County Health Department. Ã¢Â€ÂœWe want the parents to be informed when they make the decisions.Ã¢Â€Â
The sessions themselves are relatively short Ã¢Â€Â” from about 15 minutes to about 30 minutes. Some parents only want to keep their child from taking a particular vaccine, or have their children vaccinated on a schedule thatÃ¢Â€Â™s different than whatÃ¢Â€Â™s required.
Ã¢Â€ÂœWe really do tailor our education to their concerns,Ã¢Â€Â said Jane Nickert, director of nursing at Washtenaw County Public Health.
During the sessions, parents learn about the required vaccines, the diseases theyÃ¢Â€Â™re designed to prevent, the benefits of the vaccines and the implications if kids donÃ¢Â€Â™t receive the vaccines.
Ã¢Â€ÂœThereÃ¢Â€Â™s a lot of thoughtful dialogue going on with parents,Ã¢Â€Â said Kathy Forzley, health officer for the Oakland County Health Department.
Wells said the new rule in part is targeted at parents who receive waivers out of convenience Ã¢Â€Â” those who run out of time to schedule a visit to get their children vaccinated, and opt to just sign a waiver instead.
Language a concern
But even with the no-pressure approach, the new rule is raising some concerns. Parents are required to sign a form in which they Ã¢Â€Âœacknowledge that I may be placing my child and others at risk of serious illness should he or she contract a disease that could have been prevented through proper vaccination.Ã¢Â€Â
Connie Rubino of St. Clair Shores, who opts not to vaccinate her children for religious and philosophical reasons, objected to that language when she went in for her session in May.
Ã¢Â€ÂœPersonally I donÃ¢Â€Â™t believe IÃ¢Â€Â™m putting my child at risk,Ã¢Â€Â Rubino said. Ã¢Â€ÂœI believe weÃ¢Â€Â™ve made an educated decision.Ã¢Â€Â
Rubino initially refused to sign the waiver, but then returned to the Macomb County Health Department several weeks ago. Her beliefs hadnÃ¢Â€Â™t changed, but she said the alternative to not receiving a waiver Ã¢Â€Â”homeschooling her children Ã¢Â€Â” isnÃ¢Â€Â™t an option. So, she says, she signed with the letters V.C. next to her signature. Those letters Ã¢Â€Â” an abbreviation for the Latin term Ã¢Â€Âœvi coactusÃ¢Â€Â Ã¢Â€Â” essentially indicated she was signing under duress. She says the health department subsequently told her the waiver was no longer valid.
Bob Swanson, director for the division of immunization at the MDHHS, said local health departments are free to establish their own rules for the waivers. But he said that from the stateÃ¢Â€Â™s perspective, the form provides a spot where parents can explain why they signed.
Lokar, of the Macomb health department, wasnÃ¢Â€Â™t available Wednesday to comment on RubinoÃ¢Â€Â™s experience.
No grace period
Rubino doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t have much leeway. Wells said the state prefers that all kids be vaccinated Ã¢Â€Â” or have waivers Ã¢Â€Â” by the beginning of the school year. But she said some districts do provide parents with a grace period.
Meanwhile, Waltman and Rubino point to language in a state law they believe gives parents until Feb. 1 to have their child vaccinated or get a waiver. But Swanson said thatÃ¢Â€Â™s not the case.
Ã¢Â€ÂœItÃ¢Â€Â™s very clear in the public health code Ã¢Â€Â” a child entering a program needs to have an immunization record at the time of admittance or a waiver,Ã¢Â€Â Swanson said.
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For more information
If youÃ¢Â€Â™re a parent who still needs to schedule an education session in order to receive a vaccination waiver, visit www.michigan.gov/immunize for more information. Click on Ã¢Â€ÂœVaccine Information for the public,Ã¢Â€Â to find out which vaccines are required. To schedule an appointment for a session, youÃ¢Â€Â™ll need to call your local health department. Contact information can be found at the same web address, then by clicking on Ã¢Â€ÂœLocal Health Departments,Ã¢Â€Â then Ã¢Â€ÂœImmunization Waiver Information,Ã¢Â€Â and then Ã¢Â€ÂœCounty Health Department Map.Ã¢Â€Â