A Michigan doctor has launched a campaign to strengthen the state’s vaccination law by eliminating religious and philosophical waivers to vaccination for children attending school, preschool or daycare.
Michigan is one of a handful of states that allows parents to opt out of mandatory immunization for their children attending schools or daycares by citing religious or philosophical reasons.
Dr. Michelle Davis’ website,Mivaccinations.org, provides a simple, one-click, way for people to write to state lawmakers requesting the law be changed to close that loophole.
Nearly half of the state’s population lives in counties with kindergarten vaccination rates below the level needed to prevent contagious diseases from spreading. MLive.com published in December an investigation of vaccination rates in Michigan that revealed the state has among the highest rate of waivers for required childhood vaccines. Experts say that is putting the public at risk for outbreaks of some vaccine-preventable illnesses. Read the entire series here.
“MI Vaccinations is a grass roots organization established to increase awareness about the very poor vaccine compliance in Michigan and the need to change the law regarding allowable vaccine exemptions,” according to Davis’ website, which went live late Wednesday night.
“Our message needs to be loud and clear. Michigan vaccination law needs to change,” the statement continues. “Please be part of this voice, and take a few seconds to click on the link below and email your state legislators.”
The Mivaccinations site includes background information about vaccination, and provides a link to MLive’s database that allows parents to check out their own children’s schools to learn how many of their child’s classmates are fully vaccinated.
The site allows users to automatically send letters to all state lawmakers, Davis said, because she wanted the entire Legislature to be educated about the issue.
“We need to be the loud voices” so legislators will not be intimidated by the vocal few who oppose vaccination, said Davis, who practices medicine in Grand Rapids.
“I think most people, when they are educated, want to do the right thing for their own and other kids,” Davis added. “They are finally saying, ‘Enough is enough. My child is at risk.'”
“It’s not a personal choice,” she said. “If kids are going to go to school in Michigan they need to be vaccinated.”
MLive’s statewide databases allow parents to search by school, district and/or county to check the number of students who have been vaccinated or were granted waivers.
It was MLive’s eye-opening database published in December that spurred Davis to action, she said in an interview Thursday.
Her own family medicine practice has been diligent about keeping patients vaccinated since about 2008, when the state began experiencing a resurgence of whooping cough, she said.
With a national outbreak of measles last winter that included cases in West Michigan, she said her resolve grew to do something to help the situation.
Then she learned that the East Grand Rapids district in which her granddaughters live has a vaccination compliance rate of less than 90 percent, too low to protect against the spread of contagious diseases such as whooping cough and measles.
Two of her granddaughters, ages nine months and three years, are not old enough to be fully vaccinated.
“That kind of got me started,” she said, on a letter-writing campaign of her own to legislators of her own district and Gov. Rick Snyder and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
She received generic responses, with no promises of action, she said.
She realized she needed more voices to join hers in the call for an elimination of the lax waiver system.
Her son-in-law, Shawn Crowley, suggested a website, and helped her build the site, which launched at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. The campaign has a Facebook page as well.
Davis wanted the website to be educational, to help people understand the importance of vaccination and how Michigan’s lax laws allowing people to opt out of protecting their children has affected community health. She said she believes people are not aware how at risk their children are when vaccination levels drop.
Davis said she remembers the early days of her career when meningitis and other complications of vaccine preventable diseases were common occurrences.
“That’s just unheard of now,” thanks to vaccines, she said.
Davis said she hopes she has made it simple for people to take action, and to share word of the site.
California recently passed legislation eliminating the religious and philosophical waivers after devastating outbreaks of measles and whooping cough —pertussis.
“I just hope Michigan will do the same one day. Why not do it here before something terrible happens?”