- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

One, two, three. Only three days to go. "Why take the risk?" ask D.C. school officials.

The question speaks not only to putting children at risk for getting seriously ill sitting in classrooms where more than a quarter of the students are not inoculated against communicable diseases. It also speaks of the dreaded procrastinator's dilemma: Why risk waiting until the last minute to do what you've got to do?

Given the million and one things that can go wrong, especially dealing with government bureaucrats, inevitably something will go wrong, and it will only make matters worse.

Who needs the hassle? Who can afford for their child to miss one moment from school?

Parents in the District have until the school bells ring Friday afternoon to provide written proof of their child's immunization or else they'll get another holiday Monday, Jan. 28. However, it won't be for any reason nearly as noble as commemorating the life of civil rights martyr Martin Luther King Jr.

For once, D.C. school officials don't appear to be playing games with the paying public. They're rightfully serious about finally eliminating this dangerous health situation that puts children as well as adults at risk.

Maybe D.C. school officials fear being held financially liable if a whole playground full of students contracts the measles and they didn't bother to check the students' forms to determine if they had all complied. Maybe they're worried about another small outbreak of scarlet fever this year. Maybe they are actually getting around to doing some part of the jobs they're paid to do.

Make no mistake, judging from Superintendent Paul Vance's statements last week, principals will call you to come pick up your child or send your child home on Monday if you have not taken them to get their shots. Clear and simple.

Parents can make no excuses either. They've had plenty of time, and they're are still plenty of places to go to get free shots before Friday. After all, it's no one else's responsibility to make sure that your children receive proper medical care.

Tell me what can be more important than your children's health and safety?

If this weekend's lineup was any indication, the school system and the health department can count their public awareness blitz a success. The numbers are not all in, but it looks like most parents will make it before the photo finish.

As Denise Barnes reported for The Washington Times, hundreds of parents braved the snow and ice storm over the weekend to attend the ninth annual NBC-4 Health and Fitness Expo at the Washington Convention Center to get their children immunized.

Young and old alike stood in the long line. Major Stewart accompanied his grandson, Gregory Jackson, to receive one shot because he didn't want the Cardozo High School student to miss even a day of school. And Shadona Jenkins chose not to wait for Children's Hospital to give her an appointment for her 2-year-old daughter, Shakiya, to receive a tuberculin shot.

From the Reeves Municipal Center in Northwest to Israel Baptist Church in Northeast to the East of the River Health Center, city officials will be available to immunize your children in schools, churches and health care facilities all over town this week. There's even a walk-in site Thursday at the gone-but-not-forgotten D.C. General Hospital ambulatory care building on Massachusetts Avenue Southeast. Ms. Barnes also reports that clinic at 1311 Spring Road NW, for example, is underutilized.

At this late date, it serves no useful purpose to shake a finger at city officials who allowed this problem to reach this level.

Some parents are unable or, let's face it, unwilling to go to clinics due their work schedules or whatever ails them. That's why the health department and the school system should take this example to further their collaborative efforts and strengthen the health care delivery system to the city's neediest children.

Indeed, city officials needed to get strict sooner but they also need to make resources and alternatives readily available, something they are now doing.

Kudos for whoever came up with the bright idea to send home packets of homework and study materials with the students who will undoubtedly be sent home Monday.

Until this all-out effort, one in four D.C. students was not immunized for communicable diseases. That's 29,999 of 68,449 students who had not filed the necessary documentation they were required to turn in not later than 10 days after the beginning of the school year.

City legislators should change the law to resemble those in suburban school districts where they do not allow students to set foot in classrooms without the prerequisite proof of inoculation.

There's no need to repeat this last-minute panic pitch ever again. Why take the risk?

For information, call the D.C. Health Department hot line at 800/666-2229.

* Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is atwashin@aol.com.

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