What’s the Future of School Vaccines in Michigan?

Healthcare workers and the elderly will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it is widely distributed. And, in the months following their vaccinations, the general public will become eligible too. While there are still many questions to be answered regarding the adult population being vaccinated against COVID, there are also questions regarding children being vaccinated. 

When will the vaccine be ready for children? Is it safe for them? Will children be required to be vaccinated to attend school?

According to a recent Washington Post article, trials for a COVID vaccine geared toward children have either just begun or have yet to start, depending on the company. This information alone means that a vaccine for children is farther out, however more than 1.1 million children have tested positive for the virus thus far. A child’s immune system responds differently than an adult’s does which is just one reason why child-oriented trials are necessary; ensuring the vaccine is safe and effective for this sector of the population is critical.  

Certainly when a vaccine will be available for children will impact when students can safely return to school and partake in school-oriented activities. However, even when one becomes available, the question of whether they will be required to obtain take the vaccine to attend school remains. States determine vaccine laws and in Michigan the Public Health Code requires children to be immunized against polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. There are exceptions though, such as if vaccinating a child violates the religious beliefs of the family or is medically advised against because it could cause more harm than good to the child. 

Below are the overall vaccination and waiver rates for the diseases mentioned above by county in Southeastern Michigan. This highlights how the majority of the K-12 students in Southeastern Michigan are vaccinated as required by Michigan law.  According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit (which was included in the regional maps due to its size) had the highest percentage of students vaccinated as of February 2020 at 94.1 percent, followed by Washtenaw County with 93.9 percent of its student population being vaccinated. Livingston County had the lowest percentage of students vaccinated at 90 percent. Conversely, Livingston County had the highest vaccine waiver rate at 7.7 percent while Detroit had the lowest at 1.9 percent. 

The data displayed above is reflective of vaccines required by the Michigan Public Health Code and as of yet there is no word as to whether or not the COVID vaccine will be required for school attendance in Michigan. In theory, we can only hope that vaccination rates for school-aged children will be as high as they are for the required vaccines in Michigan. But, until a vaccine for that population becomes available, and likely for sometime after, schools will have to continue to enforce social distancing, mask-wearing and regular sanitization, if they are meeting in person. 

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