- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

District officials have opened clinics in 48 public schools to provide free vaccinations to the 1,190 students who have yet to receive their shots or provide up-to-date immunization records.

The number of students either without the shots or the updated records is about 2 percent of the school system’s 60,799 students.

The biggest problems are in the middle, junior and high schools, which have 884 of the 1,190 students, Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent of D.C. schools, said Tuesday. Among those students, 614 are in the senior high schools and 270 are either in the junior highs or middle schools.

D.C. officials estimated about two weeks before the Sept. 1 start of school that roughly 5,000 students were out of compliance. They have since reduced that number, in part, by working with the city’s Department of Health to open the clinics.

Mr. Neal said the clinics will remain open until Wednesday and that principals were told to notify parents or guardians by phone and letters to get shots for their children.

The principals also were told to send school counselors to homes in which students have not received the shots.

Vera Jackson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said the clinics are not getting as many students as expected, and she urged families to take action.

“We continue to encourage parents to take their children to the doctor for their shots or return the [signed] consent form to the school nurse,” so that students can be immunized, Ms. Jackson said.

Mr. Neal said the school system continues to follow the policy of “No Shots. No School,” and that students without shots are not supposed to attend classes.

The District has had a similar problem in previous years and has tried several ways to resolve it, including the threat of a $500 fine and 10 days in jail for parents of children without shots.

In December 2001, about 6,000 students were without the shots and were sent home for 10 days. Only three students returned without proof of being vaccinated. The parents were charged with violating the law, but additional details were unavailable because the court records were closed.

“We’re better off than we were three years ago,” Mr. Neal said. “I am pleased — but not as pleased as I would like to be. Some of my parents haven’t taken advantage of immunization [clinics] prior to the beginning of school. … Parents should assume responsibility to make sure their children visit their health care provider before school begins so that we don’t have 1,190 students out of compliance.”

The required shots are DPT (for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), OPV (oral polio vaccine), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), HIB (haemophilus influenza type B), HepB (hepatitis B), and varicella immunizations, if students have not had chicken pox.

Public school officials in Prince George’s County, with a student population of more than 139,000, and Montgomery County, with a student population of about 141,000, said they have no major problems with student immunizations.

“We have [immunization] clinics scheduled before school begins,” said Judith Covich, a senior administrator for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services. “And we get the word out in a variety of ways — through the media, an immunization-information line and we have an International Student Office [that includes] a school health services center.”

She said the center immunizes students from other countries or those returning from outside the United States.

Ms. Covich said nurses who work for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services review records and work with parents to ensure children not in compliance are sent to a clinic.

“We’ve been very successful,” she said.

Barbara Hunter, executive director of Information and Outreach for the Alexandria public school system, said student immunization is not a problem for the 11,000-student population.

“We have never had the level [of noncompliance] that D.C. experiences,” she said.

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