- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

About 40 percent of D.C. students have not received all of their immunization shots, increasing their risk of contracting and spreading common childhood diseases, health and education officials said.
"Measles sounds like a quaint disease now, but it is a killer and can cause serious damage among children," said Andrew Schamess, senior deputy director for primary care and prevention for the D.C. Department of Health.
Health officials said the metropolitan area is at high risk for disease outbreaks because many residents travel frequently to countries where contagions thrive and many immigrants have children who have not been immunized in their native countries.
A recent study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the District among U.S. cities with the lowest immunization rates for the most common vaccinations given to children. The "4:3:1:3:3" series includes shots for measles, polio and hepatitis B, among others.
In that series, the District had a 66 percent immunization rate last year, compared with the 73 percent national average. Maryland had a 75 percent average, and Virginia's average was 71 percent.
D.C. students are required to receive shots for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B and flu, and to have all their papers in order on the first day of school, Sept. 4.
Last year, 50,000 of the District's 77,000 students were not in total compliance for immunizations by opening day, said Ralph Neal, assistant school superintendent. "This year, there is some progress, but not enough as I would have liked to see," he said.
The last major outbreak of measles in city schools was in 1989, when 16 preschoolers contracted the disease. Last year, an outbreak of scarlet fever, which has no vaccine, worried residents in the District.
Preventing disease and ensuring all children are immunized is an effort "everybody in the city needs to make his priority," said Mr. Neal.
The District will hold a clinic at Trinity Square near Children's Hospital tomorrow where children can receive free immunizations. The Department of Health has been holding several free immunization clinics around the city.
But the clinics do not appear to attract enough people. Fewer than 20 children attended a clinic this week organized by the Department of Health at a Northeast pharmacy after it had been open half the day. Most were there for a moon bounce, face-painting and giveaways of school supplies, not the shots.
One parent who asked not to be identified said she wandered in after her daughter spotted the moon bounce. "I am taking her for her shots to the family doctor next week," she said.
Parents have expressed skepticism about vaccines, which have caused complications like allergies and seizures in rare cases. A recent study in Britain linked the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine with a risk of autism.
Dr. Giorgio Culp, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said subsequent studies found no correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. "But it created a lot of hysteria among the public. I would spend a lot of time explaining things to parents," he said.
The number of shots given to children has increased in the past few years, he said. In 1985, children younger than 2 received six shots; now that number is 18.
"It does make going to the doctor's office more scary," he said. "Is it worth the pain and suffering? I think it is."


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