Dr. Matthew Davis, Michigan's chief medical executive, on the public health consequences of vaccine waivers

December 11, 2014

Matthew Davis was cited in an MLive story published today examining the state’s vaccination waiver rate – which is among the highest in the country – and the very real public health consequences that come with it.

"Our vaccination rates in the state are going in the wrong direction," Davis is quoted as saying in the MLive story, Vaccination waivers put hundreds of Michigan communities at risk of disease outbreaks. "And if we are going in the wrong direction, we are in trouble."

Recently, an outbreak of whooping cough – a disease once thought to be nearly eradicated – in Traverse City closed a 1,200-student charter school for a week and forced hundreds in the region into quarantine. And last week, two residents in Grand Traverse County were diagnosed with measles, “one of the most contagious diseases known to man,” according to the article.

Health experts attribute these outbreaks, in part, to residents choosing not to vaccinate. In 2013-14, Michigan had the fourth-highest rate of kindergarten vaccine waivers in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state’s vaccine-waiver rate of 5.9 percent is nearly three-times higher than the national median of 1.8 percent.

One of the reasons for this is Michigan makes it easy to avoid immunization. It is one of 20 states that allow parents to obtain a vaccination waiver for their children for reasons beyond religious or medical concerns. About three-quarters of the waivers in Michigan are obtained because of philosophical objections, the story says.

Concerns over the safety and effectiveness of vaccines remain a driving force for the vaccination waivers. Davis says that, in some ways, vaccines have become a victim of their own success. "Today's parents have not seen tetanus or polio. There is a reason for that and that reason has a name – vaccines,” he said. “When we learn not to respect a threat, that threat comes back to challenge us. That's the challenge we face in Michigan.”

Davis was also quoted in WXYZ Detroit’s coverage of the MLive story.

Dr. Matthew Davis is a professor at both the Ford School of Public Policy and the Medical School. He is also the chief medical executive for the State of Michigan. His current work focuses on vaccination policy issues, child and family health insurance issues, and innovations in health care delivery.

--Story by Paul Gully (MPP '16)