GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Health Department is using National Immunization Awareness Month to educate families on the importance of vaccines as immunization rates drop across the county and state. 

Vaccination clinics run by the health department are finding themselves unusually slow.

“We’re usually very busy at this time of the year with back-to-school parents getting their kids caught up, school-required immunizations and somehow the empty appointments are remaining,” Kent County Health Department Immunization Supervisor Mary Wisinski told News 8 Thursday.

The decrease is attributed to multiple factors: the coronavirus shutdowns, unknowns related to the pandemic and the move to remote learning for school-age kids. 

In Kent County, immunization rates decreased 4% from January to June for toddlers 19 to 35 months old. That’s 2,990 children. 

Ages 13 to 17 have seen a 1% decline. That figure represents 25,380 teens behind on recommended vaccines, according to the health department.

Statewide the numbers are even more concerning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found from January through April this year, the number of non-influenza vaccine doses given to children 18 and younger in Michigan decreased 21.5% compared to the average for the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Up-to-date vaccinations have declined to below 50% among most children 2 years and younger, according to the May report.

“That’s concerning because if vaccine-preventable diseases make a comeback this fall, such as measles, whooping cough, also called pertussis, then my fear is that kids are going to be very sick,” Wisinski said. “They could be in the ICU and some children may even die from diseases that we have a vaccine for.”

Right now, two clinics are offering appointments to help families get up to date. More information can be found on the health department’s website

The health department and 90 doctor’s offices in the county are also part of a federal vaccine program that helps with costs associated with immunizations. 

A program that may be even more vital given the financial obstacles many people are now facing amid the pandemic. 

“We can prevent kids from getting sick and from dying and I would just suggest (people) do their research from credible resources and call their family physician if they have questions or concerns and make sure you get your kids vaccinated. Not only for your family, but your community as well,” Wisinski said.