Between scooping up new shoes, pens and binders for their kids, there’s a vital back-to-school duty Mark Valacak often sees parents overlook until after the first day of school. Ignored, it can cost kids school days and potentially damage a child’s health.
Immunizations for students, which have seen growing opposition from parents in Michigan, are required by state law near the start of a new school year. With the first day starting near Labor Day, parents have little time left to get their kids into a doctor’s office before another year of academics.
“The challenge is a lot of parents don’t think about the vaccines over the summer. If you’re not up to date…schools have exclusion policies,” said Valacak, a health officer with Genesee County. “It’s a requirement of state law that children be immunized.”
Valacak said there are clauses that allow parents to bypass the immunizations, citing religious and philosophical beliefs. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of parents turning down immunizations is increasing across the state.
Michigan is currently the fourth highest state for parents refusing immunizations for their kids. The CDC estimates that nearly 6 percent of the 125,000 kindergartners in the state have waived immunization.
Valacak, who has seen requests for waivers increase in the past few years, attributes the increase to faulty published articles that continue to be circulated around the Internet. One debunked study from Great Britain claimed vaccines cause autism. Valacak said although the doctor who published the article has lost his license to practice medicine, similar theories continue to persist and plant doubt in parents’ minds.
“I would encourage parents to go to trusted websites like the Mayo Clinic and the CDC where you can get accurate information,” Valacak said.
Lake Fenton High School Principal Todd Reynolds experiences few encounters where parents forget or refuse to have their kids immunized. In addition to religious or philosophical reasons, Reynolds said students can receive a waiver if they are allergic to vaccines.
According to the CDC, immunization shots start right after birth and can follow up until the age of 18. Whooping cough, measles, rotavirus and diphtheria are a few of the 16 diseases the CDC lists as preventable if children are vaccinated.
The CDC warns parents who do forfeit immunizations have to assume full responsibility when a child becomes sick. Children may have to be isolated from others during a doctor’s visit or ambulance run in order to prevent the risk of contacting an illness.
The CDC reports that children who do not receive immunizations often grow up with weaker immune systems. Parents must also be aware of the wider range of symptoms, since signs of whooping cough or rotavirus are not as easily recognizable as other common illnesses.
For parents who do need to get their children immunized, Valacak suggests scheduling an appointment with their doctor or visiting a county clinic as soon as possible. He said there are payment programs for kids who do not have health insurance but still need to get immunized.
“The vaccines are most effective in intervals. Be sure to work with your health care provider to make sure you’re up to date,” Valacak said.