In the meantime, MDHHS promotes immunization on several fronts, including a partnership with IVaccinate, which pushes out social media posts, information on the website and outreach to the media.
It hosts an annual flu webinar with Michigan State University-Extension that this September drew about 1,200 health care providers including physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, focused on vaccine recommendations and strategies to improve flu vaccination rates.
MDHHS also promotes an annual college and university flu challenge, a competition among Michigan schools aimed at driving up vaccinations among students – an age group that typically has the lowest overall immunization rate.
Despite those measures, it could be that persistent warnings about the alleged dangers of vaccines by anti-vaccine groups are holding down Michigan’s vaccination rate as well.
In Kent County, health officials this summer launched a public awareness campaign with TV ads and billboards aimed at increasing area vaccinations. It was preceded by a Facebook video by Kent County Health Department administrative health officer Adam London.
In the video, London cautioned: “As the anti-vaccine movement spreads, so has our vulnerability to infectious diseases that used to be under control.”
He warned in the video of the spread of measles, as more than 40 cases of measles in Michigan have been confirmed this year by MDHHS and more than 1,200 cases nationwide. According to CDC, nearly 90 percent of those infected were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Measles was thought to be all but eradicated in the U.S. by the year 2000.
The video was watched more than 4,000 times, an unusually high number – with more than 100 viewers weighing in.
One commented: “How about awareness of complete lack of liability for vaccine manufacturers, while you are informing the public? How about awareness of the not so rare vaccine injuries?”
Another added: “I’m just curious, if this product is so great why does it have to be shoved down everybody’s throats?”
“We call them the vaccine hesitant. There’s a certain segment you are never going to reach,” said Steve Kelso, spokesman for the Kent County Health Department.
That might include members of Michigan for Vaccine Choice, a Troy-based nonprofit group that opposes mandatory vaccination and warns of serious injury and death from vaccines.
“Flu vaccine is pushed on vulnerable populations, exposing them to a litany of chemicals that can, individually, cause injury,” Connie Johnson, the group’s media director, told Bridge in a statement.
“In fact, there are studies that show a person who gets flu vaccine two or more consecutive years is more likely to become ill. With the flu.”
Despite that assertion, a 2018 study of hospitalized flu patients in Spain published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal concluded: “Repeated vaccination for influenza was highly effective in preventing severe and fatal infection caused by influenza in older adults.”
The CDC notes that hundreds of millions of Americans have received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, adding that “there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.”
That sounds about right to Jim DuRussel, a Grand Rapids resident who recently stopped at a suburban Walgreen’s for his annual shot. DuRussel said he’s a believer in the science behind flu shots.
“I’ve been getting flu shots for probably the last 35 years,” said the 77-year-old Grand Rapids resident.
“Obviously I want to prevent coming down with the flu. I think (the shot) probably does work. I never had the flu.”
Mike Wilkinson contributed to this article.