More affluent school districts in Southeastern Michigan have higher immunization waiver rates

In recent weeks news has broken about outbreaks of diseases many have thought were eradicated. From a mumps outbreak in the NHL to a measles outbreak at Disney World, in which the pattern includes seven different states with a whooping cough outbreaks, and a measles outbreak much closer to home in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties- we are seeing that these diseases are indeed making a comeback, and many believe it is because of the growing number of children not being immunized.

While there have been no such outbreaks as mentioned above, immunization rates do vary in Southeastern Michigan, with some school districts having rates lower than the minimum thresholds needed to prevent the spread of disease. This is problematic, as low immunization rates threaten herd immunity and puts both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals at risk.

What is herd immunity?

The phrase “herd immunity” refers to protecting a community from disease by having a critical mass of its population immunized. Rather than just protecting the person vaccinated, vaccines can protect the entire community by breaking the chain of an infection’s transmission. However, for this to be successful, a certain number of people have to be vaccinated.

Epidemiologists have determined a basic threshold for infectious disease transmission by calculating both a “basic reproduction number” (R0), which represents how many people in an unprotected population one infected person can pass the disease along to – basically, a single person with mumps can pass it along to between 4 and 7 non-vaccinated people, while a single person with the measles could pass it along to between 12 and 18. The higher this R0 value is, the higher the percentage of vaccinated people in the population has to be, in order to prevent the spread of these illnesses. Therefore, in order to prevent an outbreak of measles, for instance, in a school district, 89-94% of students would have to be immunized.


Photo credit © Tangled Bank Studios; data from Epidemiologic Reviews, 1993.

Furthermore, it is important for the population to be immunized in order to protect the health of those who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants and people with weakened immune systems. When large chunks of the community are not protected against these diseases, it is these groups of people whose health with be the most affected.

What are the immunization rates in Southeast Michigan schools?

Rates vary from well above minimum threshold numbers for even the most contagious diseases (Hazel Park and Southfield schools both have rates of 98%) to far below the threshold for any sort of protection (Madison Public Schools has the lowest, at only 70% vaccinated). However, it is important to note that not all school districts track vaccination rates uniformly – Inkster Public Schools, for instance, is reporting a 100% vaccination rate, but that’s based on an interview with a very small sample of students and may not be accurate.

Note: Data unavailable for Willow Run Schools (white area), as it was absorbed into Ypsilanti Schools this year.

One interesting trend present in the map is how more affluent districts seem to have lower vaccination rates than their less affluent counterparts, suggesting that non-vaccination is more of a trend in middle- to upper-income communities (although this certainly does not hold true for all). One important fact about herd immunity is that being vaccinated yourself (or vaccinating your children) matters less when the population isn’t immunized. For example, an unvaccinated student in Hazel Park would have less of a chance of catching a vaccine-preventable illness than a vaccinated student in neighboring Madison Heights, since it would be exceedingly difficult for disease to spread in a population that is nearly universally protected against it.

What is Michigan doing to boost vaccination rates?

As of January 1, 2015, the Michigan Department of Community Health changed their rules on obtaining an exemption waiver for vaccinations. Starting this year, parents will still have the right to refuse inoculations, but first they have to be educated by a local health worker about vaccines and the diseases they are intended to prevent, and sign a universal state form that includes a statement of acknowledgement that they understand they may be putting their own children and others at risk by refusing shots.

Currently, Michigan is one of 20 states that allow such an exemption. With this being the case, it was still easier to obtain a waiver here than it is elsewhere – for instance, Arkansas and Minnesota require a waiver form to be notarized, and Vermont requires parents who opt out to renew their waiver each year, instead of just for kindergarten, sixth grade, and in the event of a school transfer.

There is a definite correlation between the ease of getting an exemption waiver for vaccinations and the percentage of students who obtain waivers, as one study (Blank, Caplan & Constable, 2013) found that states with an easier process had waiver rates twice as high as those with more complicated ones. Therefore, by tightening these restrictions, Michigan’s vaccination waiver rates may decrease, and vaccination rates may increase.

Blank, N.R., Caplan, A.R. & Constable, C. (2013) Excempting schoolchildren from immunizations: States with few barriers had highest rates of nonmedical exemptions. Health Affairs 32(7): 1282-1290.


Detroit News: Detroit home program not as successful as originally thought

According to a recent Detroit News article, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s home auction program launched in 2014 looked successful on the outside. Of the about 400 abandoned homes up for auction, 394 were bid on and appeared to be being transferred to new owners. However, of those 394 supposed-to-be-new homeowners only about a third were able to close on the homes. Additionally, 37 of the closings were delayed and dozens fell through. In total, according to numbers provided by the Detroit Land Bank, 138 properties were closed on. To read more click here.

NYT: Lower wage earners hit the hardest by local, state taxes

An article recently released by the New York Times shed light on a study produced by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy that shows how lower wage earners pay a large percentage of their income in local and state taxes than the middle fifth and 1 percent of Americans.

In Michigan, according to the study, the share of a family income of non-elderly taxpayers paid in state and local taxes was 5.1 percent. The lowest 20 percent paid 9.2 percent of their family income in state and local taxes, the second lowest 20 percent paid 9.4 and the middle lowest paid 9.2 percent. To learn more about who pays what in state and local taxes in Michigan click here. For the whole report click here.

NYT: Non-working men spend more time watching television while women spend more time caring for others

A recent article by the New York Times displays how unemployed men and women typically spend their day. This data, which was part of the American Time Use Survey, shows how non-working men between the ages of 25 and 54 spend more time watching television while women in the same age range without jobs spend more time caring for others. To read more please click here.

Regional leaders committed to growing Michigan’s blue economy

Michigan’s “blue economy” remains a priority for universities, non-profits, government entities and business leaders across the region. Recently, a “Blue Economy Tour” was led by the University Research Corridor (URC) – an alliance of Michigan’s three leading research institutions, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University that highlighted a mantra many of those in the Great Lakes State have been already know: “Maintain and protect our water resources and Michigan will flourish.”

To read more about Michigan’s growing “blue” industry click here.

MLIVE: Michigan residents poised for SNAP funding cuts

According to MLive, some Michigan residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are likely to lose an average of $76 a month in funding because of federal cuts that the State of Michigan didn’t take action to avoid. Under the new farm bill, there is a provision that states in order for a person to be eligible for additional SNAP benefits they must receive at least $21 in heating assistance. A Michigan Department of Human Services spokesperson told MLive that the State can’t “justify spending $21 per household for people that didn’t have any energy expenses.” Many people who rent don’t have utility bills and in the past the State only had to pay $1 in heating assistance for a family to be eligible for more SNAP benefits. To learn more click here.

NYT: Minnesota easily reins in carbon emissions

According to the New York Times,  Minnesota continues to mandate strict energy regulations, a fete that residents easily comply with. The article showcases how the state uses more wind energy than all but four states in the country and has reduced its carbon emissions by about 33 percent since 2003. To read more click here.


Michigan roads just as mediocre as other Great Lakes States’

One of the toughest winters on record in Michigan has challenged our roads tremendously, and we are dealing with a plague of potholes and craters. Given this and other neglect, the Michigan Department of Transportation said, the state needs an additional 35 cents per day from every vehicle registered in the state to maintain roads in good/ fair conditions. That’s $127.75 per car. Even so, that’s a lot less than the $357 per car cost that the bad condition of Michigan roads imposes on each motorist.

This post seeks to put the conditions of Michigan roads in context by highlighting road conditions in the eight Great Lakes States. Although Michigan invests the lowest amount of funds into roads, per capita, in the region, it does not have the highest percentage of poor roads or cost of vehicle repairs.


The chart above shows the additional cost of motor vehicle repairs, per motorist, caused by driving on roads in need of repair. New York has the highest average cost, according to the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, at $403. Ohio has the second highest average, in the Great Lakes state region, at $367 and Michigan comes in third at $357. Click here to learn about the vague methodology behind this report.


The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure also showed that, of the Great Lakes States, Illinois had the highest percent of roads in mediocre or poor condition (73%) in the region while Indiana has the lowest (17%). The report indicated Michigan had 38 percent of its roads in mediocre or poor condition (lowest), following. Information is based off of 2009 data; the report card did not objectively define poor, mediocre, or good.


According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, Minnesota invested $315 per capita into its total 2014 road budget while Michigan invested $174. This was the lowest in the Great Lakes region. Indiana invested the second lowest at $187.


While weather can have an affect on roads, so can the amount of vehicle traffic. According to the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, in 2009, Indiana had the highest highway vehicle miles traveled per capita at 11,672. Michigan came in fourth in the Great Lakes region at 9,878 highway vehicle miles per capita.

Detroit News deems Detroit as America’s deadliest city for children

According to a study published by the Detroit News, in 2010 the death rate for Detroit children 18 years and under was 120 per 100,000 residents. This was the highest rate in the country; Detroit was also the only city where the rate was over 100 children per 100,000 residents. Through the News’ findings it was determined the city is dangerous for children because of prematurity and violence. To read the study click here. To see our past coverage on infant mortality rates click here.

Safer neighborhoods aiding in decreasing obesity rates

America’s obesity problem is not only causing problems for people’s health, but also on their wallets. According to American Public Health Association, the direction cost of obesity in the United States is $152 billion that is spent on related health care; this epidemic also indirectly costs the nation about $73 billion a year for things like lost work time. However, the APHA announced the obesity rate has been declining in past years because of healthier food options in school, safe school routes, and other items that promote a safe environment. The APHA said when children live in safe neighborhoods they feel comfortable with playing outside, meaning they will get more physical activity. To learn more click here (click the infographic to enlarge it).