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Raising Michigan Childhood Immunization Rates

In Strategic Communications by Roger Martin

I’ve never been a parent who had to confront the loss of a child, and I hope and pray I never will.

I met Sean and Veronica McNally, young parents from Oakland County, in spring 2013. They are highly educated, high-achieving, whip-smart attorneys. Another young couple raising a family, living the dream. And living with the painful memory of losing their 3-month-old daughter, Francesca, in April 2012 to pertussis (whooping cough) — a disease that a vaccine can protect us from catching.

After Francesca’s death, the McNallys set upon a journey to find out why and how this could possibly happen to them. They discovered that, in fact, it could also happen to tens of thousands of other kids in Michigan because our state’s childhood immunization rates are among the nation’s worst:

  • Michigan ranks 43rd lowest or worst in the United States for immunization coverage among children 19 to 35 months of age. (Source: 2015 NIS data)
  • Only 54% of Michigan toddlers are up to date on their vaccination (Source: MCIR data from December 2016)
  • Only 29% of Michigan teens ages 13 to 18 are up to date on their vaccinations. (Source: MCIR data from December 2016)

From their loss and their research, the McNallys formed the Franny Strong Foundation and pledged to do everything they could to improve Michigan’s immunization rates and prevent another child from dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Veronica told us about her idea for a public health education campaign called “I Vaccinate.” Her vision: I Vaccinate would feature parents talking to parents about the indisputable scientific and medical fact that vaccines are safe and effective for the overwhelming majority of children and adults. Of course, Martin Waymire was in.

Working with the Franny Strong Foundation and one of the state’s truly great advertising agencies (Brogan & Partners), the I Vaccinate team spent more than two years talking to Michigan parents, and researching how Michigan and other states educate audiences about vaccine-preventable diseases.

We also worked to find funding for a campaign that needed an arsenal of integrated communications tools:

  • TV, radio, print, outdoor and digital ads;
  • Earned media strategies and tactics;
  • Robust social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram);
  • A compelling website aimed at Michigan parents;
  • And close collaboration with public health organizations, hospitals, physicians, nurses and other health care providers.

To succeed, we know this campaign must run for multiple years because the mission is to change a behavior grounded in confusion caused largely by “bad science” and a surprising lack of public education resources that parents can easily access to find the facts and information they need to protect their children.

After securing the first year of funding, we partnered with the phenomenal communications team and medical and immunization experts at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to plan, create all the communications tools for, and launch I Vaccinate.

Nearly all of Michigan’s major physician and public health organizations (Michigan State Medical Society, Michigan Health & Hospital Association, Michigan Osteopathic Association, Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, Michigan Council of Nurse Practitioners, Michigan Association of Health Plans, and many more) are supporting I Vaccinate. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the campaign. I Vaccinate went “live” on March 20 with a news conference in Lansing that received broad media coverage.

In the coming years, you’ll see and hear I Vaccinate ads in Michigan on TV, radio and the internet. You can “like” I Vaccinate on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. But most important, if you or anyone you know has questions about childhood immunizations, I strongly urge you to visit www.IVaccinate.org.  You’ll find the answers you need to protect your child from measles, mumps, whooping cough, chickenpox and other diseases that still pose a threat to communities across Michigan.

At Martin Waymire, we only work for clients who share our passion for making Michigan a better place. I Vaccinate is a bullseye in that sweet spot: a Michigan with more children protected from serious diseases is a better Michigan.