It’s hard to know why, but Michigan has long been a national leader in a medical category that puts kids at risk — the number of parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated.
It’s a puzzling problem that medical experts seem unable to crack — convincing parents that immunizing their children against diseases that we thought were long gone a couple generations ago.
There has long been a cottage industry of sorts of vaccine doubters, which has grown exponentially with the widespread advent of the Internet.
Believers can cite chapter and verse of statistics that show how dangerous vaccines are and how parents are putting their kids at risk by allowing them to be inoculated against diseases like whooping cough (pertussis), measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, chickenpox and meningitis.
Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, before vaccines for a host of childhood diseases were commonly available, parents would have given almost anything to protect their children from polio, diptheria and whooping cough.
But today, with effective and safe vaccines widely available — and in fact required by law — thousands of parents every year are refusing to get their children the shots that can protect them from those childhood diseases.
Some of the diseases on the list are relatively benign, except when a family is going through them, of course.
Baby boomers can likely recall when chicken pox or measles ran through their family or a family down the street; some may even have old photos of a couple kids with their faces pumped up by the mumps.
But every one of those diseases has its own risks such as a high fever or complications that can make them deadly, or at least a serious health risk. And who wants their child to suffer at all?
Michigan is one of 20 states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children on religious or philosophical waivers; 30 states don’t allow any.
To attend a public or private school, a child must be vaccinated against all the diseases listed above. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7,300, or 5.5 percent, of the state’s roughly 125,000 kindergartners had medical, religious or philosophical waivers on file last school year.
That’s up from about 6,900 the year before and 5,700 in 2010-11.
And 75 percent of those waivers are philosophical, not religious, which means parents have decided on their own that vaccines aren’t safe — or, to put it another way, more of a danger than the diseases they are created to prevent. That’s hard to understand.
There are plenty of websites out there filled with horror stories about vaccinations, and there is a substantial subculture of vaccine deniers and those who make wild — and largely unsubstantiated — claims that vaccines can cause autism or other horrifying conditions.
The fact that there is no plague of vaccine-related maladies sweeping the nation doesn’t seem to matter.
Claims from a couple websites or self-described experts seem to carry more weight than the worldwide medical community.
If you have doubts, talk to your doctor and look up information from credible sources. Look around you at friends and family to see what their experiences have been.
Then, make an informed choice you believe is best for your child.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE