Campaign pushes aside shot myths for herd immunity
HANCOCK — When it comes to communicating the benefits of immunization, health officials are in some ways the victim of their own success.
Thirty years ago, most families had someone who had seen the effects of polio or measles, said Terry Frankovich, medical director for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. With those memories fresh in mind, the argument for vaccination was easier to make.
“Now that we’ve been successful with vaccination, and we’ve reduced the number of cases of those illnesses, they’re not as familiar to parents currently,” she said.
The WUPHD has joined with other health departments across the Upper Peninsula to promote immunization in its “Immunization Facts and Fiction” campaign, which includes social media outreach and mailings sent to schools and households with children.
The push comes as some infectious diseases, preventable by vaccines, are making a comeback. A recent measles outbreak has spread to 21 states, including Michigan, where four cases have been reported.
In Europe, measles have infected thousands of people in recent weeks.
In Michigan, children are required to get vaccinations when entering into child care, kindergarten or sixth grade, or when transferring schools, unless they obtain a waiver.
Vaccination numbers have improved among young students over the past three years, Frankovich said.
The change came after Michigan amended a rule in 2015 that allowed parents to waive immunizations by signing a form at the school. To get a waiver, they now have to go to their local health department, where they also receive safety education on the benefits of immunization.
The goal is to have immunization rates at least in the high 80th percentile to create a “herd immunity” — where even children who can’t get vaccinations for medical reasons are protected by the number of children who are immunized against it. Without those shots, an area can become more vulnerable to outbreaks such as measles, pertussis or whooping cough.
“They can spread through the adult population, where people may have waning immunity, but then when an unvaccinated child is exposed it may have more severe consequences for them, because they’re young,” said Ray Sharp, community planning and preparedness director at WUPHD.
The U.P. health departments collaborated on healthymiup.org and immunizeup.org, which has links to sites where families can get credible information, as well as a fact-versus-fiction sheet to dispel myths about vaccinations.
The promotional materials have a superhero theme, centered on the “superpowers” of fighting disease, Frankovich said. Children who visit a health department for their shots can receive superhero masks and band-aids.
Ontonagon County ranks first in the state for percentage of children between 19 to 35 months who have obtained their primary immunization series. That’s anomalous in the region: Baraga County is 45th, Houghton County is 46th in the state and Keweenaw County is the lowest in the four-county area at 68.
“We have work to do,” said Sharp said. “And it’s work that’s neverending, because there’s new babies born every day, and they move into this 19- to 35-month window.”