State health officials say a recent wave of chickenpox cases has been caused primarily by unvaccinated children contracting the illness at school. Rick Pluta reports.
There have been outbreaks reported in recent weeks in Grand Traverse, Calhoun, Muskegon, and Wayne counties. “We know that this is occurring throughout the state and optimal protection in a community occurs when everybody who can be vaccinated is vaccinated,” said Jennifer Eisner of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Eisner says there have been 436 documented cases of chickenpox in Michigan so far this year. She says 20 people were hospitalized. DHHS was not able to provide specific numbers on how many children documented as unimmunized were exposed to the virus, or were responsible for spreading the infectious disease. But, she says, vaccinated children typically do not get sick. “Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine some 20 years ago, we’ve seen significant reductions in the incidents of illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. Specifically, she said, chickenpox incidents have dropped by 97 percent over that period.
However, Michigan now has one of the nation’s highest rates of parents who don’t vaccinate their children. Eisner says that poses a particular risk for children who can’t be vaccinated: “Especially young children who can’t get immunized because they’re just too young. There are also individuals who have complicating medical factors. They’re immuno-comprised, so, it’s important that we take the steps that we can protect those who are unable to get vaccinated.”