Experts: Parents need child vaccinations on their back-to-school checklist

The new school year is almost here and health officials are urging parents to consider getting their kids up-to-date on their shots.

"We really saw those routine immunizations drop during the pandemic," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian. "Michigan’s childhood vaccination rates are the lowest they’ve been since 2011.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services see a trend that they want to see get turned around.

"In 2023, only 66.5 percent of children between the ages of 19 to 36 months had completed their recommended dose of primary vaccines and that’s compared to over 75 percent in 2017," Bagdasarian.

When vaccine rates are low, doctors say health risks rise.

Parent Veronica McNally knows first-hand how devastating a vaccine-preventable disease can be.

"In 2012 I lost my infant daughter, Francesca Marie, to whooping cough also known as pertussis," she said.

That led her to start an awareness initiative to help the public learn about vaccinations.

"I urge parents to put immunizations at the top of their back-to-school list," McNally said.

State officials make it clear when parents don’t prioritize childhood vaccinations, it can impact many others.

"These schools and communities with low vaccination rates are at increased risk for outbreaks such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox just to name a few," said Dr. Bagdasarian.

Now there’s a push to get families back on track to obtain herd immunity.

"We really talk about 70 percent as being the minimum to provide herd immunity," she said.

Officials say school-based health centers can help.

"And we have 24 school-based health centers in five counties in Michigan," said Jonnie Hamilton, Ascension Community Health. "We provide access for students right in the school building so their parents do not have to take off work to have their kids vaccinated."

Medical preparations for back-to-school is important, said Ruthanne Sudderth, Michigan Health and Hospital Association

"The infectious disease specialist the physician leaders and nurses at our member hospitals agree across the board that vaccinations are one of the most important items on a child’s back-to-school check list," she said.