Oakland County, Michigan: Measles arrives close to home

Well, it’s finally happened. What I’ve dreaded is finally in my backyard. Measles has come to the Detroit area in the form of a measles outbreak in Oakland County:

A measles outbreak in southeast Michigan has grown to 22 confirmed cases, with one reported in Wayne County, since March 13, local and state health authorities said Tuesday.

Oakland County has 21 cases and Wayne County has one, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said.

Infected individuals range in age from 11 to 63, officials said.

This is exactly the part of the tri-county area where I would have predicted outbreaks. The reason is that Oakland County is antivax central, and, as I discussed before in the context of discussing a 2018 study that looked at rates of vaccine uptake to predict what areas of the US were most at risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases based on their rates of nonemedical/personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Guess where one of the “hot spots” reported in the study was?

You guessed it: Oakland County.

According to the news story:

The number of cases surpasses last year’s record. Michigan had 19 cases last year, the highest amount since 1994. Oakland County has a higher amount of vaccine waiver rates, Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the state health department said Friday.

None of this is surprising. Of course, the study included all three counties in the metro Detroit area: Wayne County (which includes Detroit and some of its western and southern suburbs), Oakland County (which includes then northern and northwestern suburbs), and Macomb County, which includes the north and northeastern suburbs included Grosse Pointe. Oakland County has all the characteristics of an area with a lot of antivaxers, too. It’s affluent, with a lot of professionals.

Not surprisingly, the biggest antivaccine group in Michigan, Michigan for Vaccine Choice (which I’ve written about before), is based in Troy, which is in Oakland County. When Del Bigtree came to town in 2016 to promote his antivaccine propaganda movie disguised as a documentary, VAXXED, and do some fundraising for antivaccine groups, where did he go? Ferndale. And where is Ferndale? You guessed it! It’s in Oakland County. Where else did they appear? Troy. Yes, you might think that hippy dippy college towns like Ann Arbor are the hotbeds of antivaccine sentiment in Michigan, but in reality it’s suburbs in Oakland and Macomb Counties.

There have also been some fairly high profile cases involving vaccines in Oakland County. Remember, for instance, Elijah Daniel French? I wrote about the case four years ago. Basically, Elijah, unfortunately, was a victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Of course, the mother blamed it all on vaccines. As tragic as any death of an infant or toddler is, the scientific evidence does not support a link between vaccines and SIDS.

Another example is a story from 2015 about a mother in Birmingham. Birmingham, for those of you not familiar with the Detroit area, is a suburb of Detroit known for old money and, these days, one of the most hoity-toity downtowns in the state of Michigan. Basically, a mother there was furious after her sixth-grade son was sent home from class today because he wasn’t not fully vaccinated against chickenpox. Revisiting this story, of course, reminds me of the time that my former state senator and representative co-sponsored a bill that would have prohibited schools from keeping unvaccinated children during an outbreak. I kid you not. As recently as 2017 and 2018, my elected representatives were doing their best to make measles great again in Michigan. In fairness, I live in Wayne County, not Oakland County, but the political sentiment to loosen school vaccine mandates is arguably most powerful in Oakland County. Indeed, there’s a reason why a campaign to increase vaccination rates originated in Oakland County after parents lost their child to whooping cough.

It also seems that, whenever there’s a story about antivaxers in Michigan, it’s about antivaxers in Oakland County. Yes, I realize that that could just be confirmation bias on my part, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot of antivaccine sentiment in Oakland County.

So, measles is in southeast Michigan. What now? I don’t know. However, I fear that we’re only seeing the beginning of what could turn into a huge outbreak. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either:

I fear for the children in the Detroit area.