CDC director visits Wisconsin to promote school-based immunizations, restore trust in vaccines

NOW: CDC director visits Wisconsin to promote school-based immunizations, restore trust in vaccines

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The nation's top health official was in Wisconsin Wednesday encouraging parents to get their children up to date on their vaccines before the start of the next school year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Dr. Mandy Cohen, visited the Public Health Madison & Dane County clinic on S. Park Street in part of her agency's nationwide push to promote school-based immunizations before students head back to the classroom.

During the 2022-2023 school year, 89.9% of students met the minimum immunization requirements for polio, hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and DTaP/DTP/DT/TD (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

It amounts to a 1.2% increase from the previous school year, a statistic Cohen and state health officials hope to improve.

"We know they are safe, and we know they are effective, so we hope folks see that information and put it on their back-to-school checklist," Cohen said.

The CDC's efforts follow a nationwide trend where attitudes towards the COVID-19 shot have made promoting school-based immunizations more difficult.

Cohen, who was appointed director in July, said transparency and communication at her agency is one way she's working to rebuild faith in vaccinations.

"What I would ask our parents to do is get good information from your doctor, from the public health department and others that you trust," Cohen said. "I also say vaccines are just one tool, and of course we want you to use them to prevent sickness, but if your kids get sick, there are other tools, like testing and treatment."

There's been several attempts, some successful, in rejecting vaccine recommendations and requirements put forth by state health officials.

In June, Republican lawmakers blocked the state health department from updating childhood vaccination rates, such as requiring 7th graders to get the meningitis vaccine.

For years, Republicans and state health officials have clashed over the policy as well one that would have required parents to show proof of a prior chickenpox infection to avoid a vaccine. That policy was also blocked by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Republican Sen. Steve Nass, who co-chairs the powerful Joint Committee of Administrative Rules, argued the decision by DHS to recommend new childhood vaccination policies was "arbitrary and capricious" without input from lawmakers.

Cohen's visit also comes as public health officials have grappled with the challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic.

"I think that's an important part of my role as CDC director, is to rebuild trust in public health, and that's why I'm here in Wisconsin to talk about vaccinations and the importance of them," Cohen said.

Cohen formerly served as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services secretary and succeeds former CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who departed the agency at the end of June.

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