- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

A hurry-up, citywide drive to immunize nearly 21,000 students more than a quarter of the District's student body will begin Monday under pressure from a school board edict.

At stake for parents is their children's eligibility to attend school since the D.C. Board of Education ruled that uninoculated students will not be admitted into class after Jan. 25.

"The clock is ticking," Mayor Anthony A. Williams said in a prepared statement. "We have until January 25, 2002, to immunize every child and ensure the health, vitality and future of our community. We can do this with the help of everyone parents, teachers, principals, community leaders and religious institutions."

D.C. public schools require that all students, including those in day care, receive DPT (diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus), OPV (oral polio vaccine), MMR (measles/mumps/ rubella), HIB (hemophilus influenza type b), HepB (hepatitis B) and varicella immunizations, if they have not had chicken pox.

Students also are expected to have up-to-date tuberculosis screening tests and tetanus/diphtheria booster shots, if they have not been immunized in the past five years.

City schools and the D.C. Department of Health plan an all-out educational campaign, including handbills distributed on the streets and public service announcements on television and radio, to alert parents about the importance of having their children immunized.

In addition, the Health Department will offer free immunizations at more than 20 local clinics during the next three weeks to help families get their children inoculated. Parents and guardians of D.C. public school students can call 1-800/666-2229 to receive information about clinic locations.

"This recent decision by the school board may sound like an extreme measure, but it is a necessary step for our children and our entire community," said Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent for student and school support services.

The board reached its decision in November after hearing that 44 percent of the District's public school students were not fully immunized three months into the school year. The Washington Times first reported the board's decision Dec. 1.

A school system report indicates that more than 21,000 of its 77,000 students have incomplete immunization records. School board member Tommy Wells introduced the motion for the Jan. 25 deadline, citing an outbreak of scarlet fever last year and the re-emergence of tuberculosis in the city.

"If your child is not up to date with immunizations, it is critical that you do so now," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, the District's chief health officer, who declared a health emergency among the city's 140-plus public schools.


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