- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

More than 97 percent of the District’s almost 60,000 public school students now have up-to-date vaccinations — a significant improvement since the early 1990s, when less than half of the students were vaccinated, D.C. Department of Health officials say.

“This is incredible for a big city,” said Dr. Gregg Pane, Health Department director. “I believe we’re the best big city in America” for public school immunization rates.

Every school has at least 89 percent compliance, he said.

The department intends to stay vigilant, using a registry database to identify students who are not up to date on their vaccinations and teaming with doctors, school nurses and D.C. Public Schools to work toward full compliance, Dr. Pane said.

“We will push and push to encourage kids who are out of compliance to become compliant,” said schools spokeswoman Audrey Williams.

Up-to-date immunizations are required for school registration. Classes begin Aug. 27.

“Technically, it’s no shots, no school,” Ms. Williams said. “We encourage parents to do it now, not wait until the first day of school.”

The District has no new immunization requirements this year.

Maryland has added HBV (hepatitis B) and varicella (chicken pox) to the list of required vaccines. Students must have up-to-date immunization records before registering for school. Classes begin Aug. 20 in Prince George’s County and Aug. 27 in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

Last year, about 1 percent of Prince George’s County’s 134,000 public school students were not up to date on their immunizations, said schools spokesman John White.

Mr. White said the new regulations could affect the number of students out of compliance, but the school system has tried to make parents aware of the change, which became effective in January.

The Prince George’s County Health Department has been offering extended, weekend and summer hours at clinics that provide free vaccinations to uninsured children, said Ernestine Nicholson, the department’s immunization supervisor.

“Our phones are not really ringing off the hook right now,” she said. “We’ve been doing this all year. … I think it’s pretty much winding down.”

She said she does not expect an influx in the days leading up to the Aug. 20 deadline and that appointments are still available.

All rising sixth-grade students in Virginia must have the Tdap vaccine, which was licensed in 2005 and protects against tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis.

The vaccine became a state requirement last summer, but students were allowed a 90-day grace period after school began to receive the inoculation. This year, sixth-grade students will be required to have the vaccine before the first day of school, which is Sept. 4 in Alexandria and in Fairfax and Arlington counties.

Any vaccination required for school is available free of charge, said Michelle Peregoy, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health.

Nearly 10 percent of Virginia kindergarten students and nearly 30 percent of sixth-grade students were noncompliant when school began last year, Miss Peregoy said.

“We’re expecting higher numbers this year, especially for the sixth-graders with the new [Tdap] regulation,” she said.

Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed the importance of individual immunization and “herd immunity,” the idea that the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely it is for unvaccinated people to contract diseases.

“When you vaccinate a child, you not only protect the child but others in the community who were not vaccinated [for medical or other reasons],” he said.

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