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Ottawa County leads West Michigan for unvaccinated students

By Shanna Grove/WZZM-TV • Apr 21, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Health experts are telling people to get vaccinated against measles because the number of cases in our state continues to grow.

There are no confirmed cases on the west side of the state, but there are two locations in Kent County where people could have been exposed on April 12.

Of the 43 cases in Michigan this year, the majority involve adults. But measles can cause serious health complications, especially in kids younger than 5.

The percentage of students with immunization waivers in most West Michigan counties is below the state average, but that’s not the case in Ottawa County.

“There's a medical reason to get a waiver, and that would be signed by a doctor,” said Marcia Mansaray, senior epidemiologist for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.

But Michigan parents sign a vast majority of waivers for philosophical reasons.

“If it's a non-medical reason, being philosophical or religious, then you come to the health department in your local county, meet with a public health nurse who provides education, explains the risks,” Mansaray said.

The state average for students with an immunization waiver is 3.6 percent.

"Ottawa County usually does really well in health indicators, but in this case we're the worst in the counties around the lakeshore and West Michigan," Mansaray said.

In Ottawa 3.9 percent of students have an immunization waiver, ranking 45th out of 83 counties and Detroit.

“Among our population, we like to have 95 percent of people vaccinated," Mansaray said. "When we look at children, we do hit that 95 percent threshold as a county. But when we look in individual pockets, specific school buildings, or specific groups of people, we don't meet that threshold.”

That’s where the concern comes from.

“It varies from almost zero percent of waivers, up to maybe one out of four students are waivered," Mansaray said. "That's 25 percent or more of waivers in a school. That is not the herd immunity that we need, that’s a very vulnerable situation right there. And people are at risk.”

Ottawa County hasn’t seen a measles case since 1991.

“Due to the measles outbreak that's occurring on the east side of the state, we are having physician offices calling us, and parents calling us, with questions about getting their unvaccinated children vaccinated,” Mansaray said.

Lake County is another outlier on the west side of the state, with 5.4 percent of students waived.

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