Recently, outbreaks of measles — a disease which was formerly classified as eradicated — have emerged in areas throughout the country, including Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties in Michigan. The resurgence of preventable diseases, like measles and pertussis, corresponds with a disturbing trend in which an increasing number of individuals are refraining from vaccinations for themselves and their children. Cases of measles are now beginning to infiltrate college campuses with occurrences of the disease reported at institutions, such as Bard College, Moorpark College and California State University, Channel Islands. The recent rise of measles, along with other diseases, has prompted considerable concern and stresses a dire need for the University and the state to re-evaluate and reform their current vaccination policies.
In reaction to the outbreaks, the state has made some strides to protect public health. Instituted by the Michigan Department of Community Health, a new policy that commenced on Jan. 1 mandates that parents who wish to refrain from getting their children vaccinated for “philosophical or religious reasons” are now required to obtain certified waivers from their local health department. According to Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, the institution of this provision “will help ensure that those who may choose to sign the waiver have accurate information and education” regarding immunization measures.
Though the state has made some progress, Michigan continues to possess a high vaccine exemption rate. Vaccination policies on the state level contribute to the creation of more lenient standards at institutions of higher education. The University doesn’t require the general student population — with the exception of those enrolled in the Medical School — to be vaccinated before enrolling, nor does it require an accurate record of a student’s immunization history. University Health Services notifies students of recommended immunizations and requests students submit their immunization history before starting classes. However, no consequences exist for those who don’t comply. Similar policies are in effect at Michigan State University, but all students are, at least, required to submit their vaccination record.
While the University should not immediately mandate vaccinations for the student body, it should move in that direction. In doing so, a more rigorous process needs to be instituted to ensure students’ safety as well as their individual and religious freedoms. Rather than using an opt-in stance toward the University’s immunization policy, an alternative opt-out procedure should be adopted. Doing so would aid in creating procedures that increase the number of vaccinated students but still allows individuals to opt out for religious reasons.
In addition to policy measures, vaccine education efforts must be increased to combat the reappearance of infectious diseases, such as measles and pertussis. The recent decline in immunizations can be attributed to an anti-vaccine movement fueled by fears and myths regarding immunization side effects. Subsets of the population express concern that vaccines are unnatural or contribute to the development of autism, though no evidence exists to support these claims. Studies linking autism and vaccines were disproven.
The state — as a measure to contain the disease — should specifically institute education reforms in areas already affected by outbreaks. To guard against more avoidable outbreaks, factual information regarding vaccines should be integrated into class curriculum to allow students to better understand the preventative measures available to them.