- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

D.C. students swarmed to vaccination clinics throughout the city this week, the first of a three-week campaign to immunize every child in public school.

But D.C. Health Department records show that as many as 19,091 children still were not immunized as of yesterday and at risk of being barred from school.

Under a resolution approved by the D.C. Board of Education in November, students who cannot show they have received all their vaccinations by Jan. 25 will not be allowed to attend school. The school board does not appear willing to extend the deadline.

“I am 100 percent sure that 100 percent of the children will not be immunized by January 25,” said board member Tommy Wells, who introduced the resolution.

Students who do not meet the deadline will not be put on the street, he said. “We will round them up and ask their parents to pick them up [from school] and get the required shots.”

Mr. Wells said the immunization effort is part of the board’s plan to “turn the school system around.”

“I am shocked that the D.C. control board did not implement this requirement in the past years,” he said.

D.C. law requires all students to be fully immunized within 10 days of the opening of school, and those not in compliance can be barred from class. The requirement had not been enforced for nine years, and school board officials said the time has come for strict enforcement, citing a scarlet fever outbreak in schools last year and the resurgence of tuberculosis in the city.

“I am not sure why the schools haven’t enforced this before,” said Michael Richardson, deputy director of public health for the District. “Our responsibility is to make sure we make a place available, not to make sure they get immunized.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams last week announced a citywide immunization drive during which free vaccinations will be offered for three weeks at more than 20 local clinics.Despite long lines at some evening clinics this week, the response has been disappointing, officials said.

“We are not seeing the success rate we would love to see,” Dr. Richardson said, adding that in many cases they were still waiting for parents to sign consent forms.

Thursday evening, hundreds of parents and children lined up at a clinic at Reeves Municipal Center in Northwest. “I need to do this now because I cannot afford to stay home with the kids,” said Southeast resident Angel Brown, who brought her two sons.

Northwest resident Helen Amavor took time off from work to bring in her son, Tony Balbuena, 16, a student of Wilson Senior High. “This is important, so I have to be patient,” she said, waiting at the tail-end of a line that stretched along two floors of the center.

A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August found the District among U.S. cities with the lowest immunization rates for the most common vaccines given to children. The District had a 66 percent immunization rate last year, compared with the national average of 73 percent. Maryland had a 75 percent average; Virginia’s average was 71 percent.

Parents and guardians of D.C. school students can call 1-800/666-2229 for clinic locations.

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