- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

At least 2,700 students in the District need to get their shots before school starts, city officials said yesterday.

That is a big improvement from past years, when 10 times that many didn’t have up-to-date immunization records.

With school set to start Aug. 29, the city Health Department, school nurses and health care providers are focusing on the students who are harder to reach — many of them in high school who might like to avoid the dreaded needle for a hepatitis B vaccine.

“The young kids, you can just take them by the hand,” said Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health.

Free immunization clinics are being offered weekly across the city for uninsured students leading up to the start of classes, and school system volunteers will go door to door if needed to track down families they can’t reach by phone or mail, said Jennifer Ragins, the health compliance officer for the D.C. Public Schools.

Students can have their own physician update their immunization records electronically, and the school system is offering health forms online in five languages.

D.C. law requires all school-age children to be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenza, hepatitis B, pneumococcal pneumonia and chickenpox.

If not immunized on schedule, students are turned away from classes in the fall.

Last year, 3,700 student didn’t have the required vaccinations on the first day of school, and in years past at least 27,000 students were turned away.

In October, 41 parents were hauled into court on misdemeanor truancy charges when their children missed school because of immunization problems.

But with less than a month before school starts, school system officials said they hope that doesn’t have to happen again.

“We’re in better position now than we’ve ever probably been at this time in the history of the school system,” Miss Ragins said.

An immunization registry initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is partly responsible for the turnaround.

Last fall, the District earned a national award from the CDC for using the registry to bring up its immunization rate, Miss Abrar said. The school system is aiming for 100 percent compliance, and this year it might be attainable, said school system spokeswoman Roxanne Evans.

A joint public service announcement paid for by the school system and Health Department begins airing this week.

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