New bill requires schools to post low vaccination rates on doors

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After the recent measles outbreak in Michigan and across the country, state Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) was talking with his wife, Susan, a Bay City Central High School teacher, about vaccination rates in schools and grew increasingly concerned.

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Baby with measles | Dave Haygarth, Flickr

Michigan requires students to be immunized against 14 communicable diseases, but MLive reports that roughly 3.5 percent of pupils have waivers for “medical, religious or philosophical” reasons.

Medical experts say that between 92 and 95 percent of children should be immunized against mumps and measles to maintain herd immunity and prevent outbreaks, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there’s been an explosion of anti-vaccination information on online platforms including Facebook, Reddit and Youtube, which finally in February took the step of pulling ads from conspiracy sites.

In recent years, DHHS has stepped up its “IVaccinate” campaign to try and boost Michigan’s child immunization rates.

The measles outbreak was the worst in Michigan in almost 30 years and, as of April, already cost Oakland County $200,000 to fight, as the Advance first reported. The health scare has prompted some parents with infants too young to be immunized to stay home to avoid exposure, as the New York Times reported. And Elder noted that there’s a risk for pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, as well.

While you can find vaccination rates on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website, Elder said he wanted to make the process easier.

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Brian Elder | House Democrats photo

“I figured that you want an informed citizenry,” said the two-term Democrat and attorney.

So last week, he introduced House Bill 4610 requiring traditional public and charter schools to post on their website, as well as on each entrance, if more than 5 percent of students haven’t been vaccinated.

“People want to know whether walking into a building will give you measles,” Elder told the Advance in an interview Monday.

The bill is short, but very clear on the requirements: Signs must be at least 8-1/2 inches by 11 inches — standard letter size — and information must be listed in at least 24-point font. 

Vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are displayed on a counter at a Walgreens Pharmacy on January 26, 2015 | Photo by Illustration Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In other words, reticent schools can’t find a loophole by posting a Post-It Note with barely decipherable type.

Elder posted a photo of the bill on his Facebook page last week and was unprepared for the 122 comments — and counting — as well as the venom in some of them.

“I was uninformed that it was a culture war issue,” Elder said with a laugh, adding he thought it was a common-sense health and education measure.

He’s also already been “berated” by a group of anti-vaccination parents who said the bill would ostracize their children. Elder told them the bill doesn’t list the names of students who aren’t vaccinated — just the percentage if the school falls below 95 percent — but he said that didn’t appear to convince them.

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

The bill has yet to be taken up by the state House Policy Committee — and could face strong headwinds, as several Republicans, including state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) in previous terms, have signed on to anti-vaccination bills.

Last term, former state Rep. Jeff Noble (R-Plymouth) sponsored a bill that would have made it easier for parents to obtain vaccination waivers by removing current parental education requirement and making it more difficult for DHHS to “promulgate rules regarding immunization.”

Elder’s legislation, so far, is only co-sponsored by Democrats.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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