- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

The District had an outbreak of scarlet fever that involved several young children in 2000. Last year, a study concluded that the city has one of the lowest immunization rates (66 percent) in the nation. Also last year, District officials found that nearly 21,000 young people had not been inoculated against such communicable diseases as measles and chicken pox. Some had not been tested for the highly contagious tuberculosis. So, in November, school officials set the bar: No shots by Jan. 25, no school. To be sure, these are extreme but necessary measures to protect the children of this city.
Indeed, shoring up sufficient supplies of antibiotics and vaccinations in the aftermath of September 11 is one thing. The threat of bioterror is certainly real, and something for which America and its allies in the war against terrorism must be prepared. Still, instead of shutting down the entire school system, which would have been a disastrous mistake, school officials went on the offensive as well they should.
Communicable diseases are no less life-threatening. Consider chicken pox, which is not a serious disease for most children. In adults and pregnant women, however, it can cause birth defects and stillbirths, as well as encephalitis or pneumonia. Moreover, it is so contagious in its early stages that an exposed person who has not been immunized has a 70 percent to 80 percent chance of contracting it. Consider, as well, that the District is home to thousands of immigrant children, whose homelands' immunization laws are not as strict as ours. These scenarios do not bode well for any institution schools, day-care centers and recreation centers that handle large numbers of children day in and day out. So, to know that one in four D.C. students is not immunized against childhood diseases and stand idly by would be irresponsible in the extreme. It would have been equally irresponsible if the city had taken this tough approach with one hand and not offered an alternative with the other.
Thanks to joint efforts by school officials, the D.C. Department of Health and the National Immunization Project, however, parents have dozens of options. Free immunization services are being provided across the city at churches and schools. Georgetown University's mobile clinics are out and about, too. There is simply no excuse for parents or guardians not to get their children inoculated.
While it would be a crying shame if children are turned away at the door of the school house come Jan. 26, this is not a new immunization law the city is enforcing. The law, which stipulates that students must be immunized within 10 days of the start of the school year, has been on the books for years and parents get the start-of-the-school-year paperwork to remind them as much. The city merely failed to enforce the law. Fortunately for the children of the District, it is enforcing it now.

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