- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

D.C. officials yesterday held a health fair to offer families information about free health care and give students immunization shots, part of an aggressive program that has significantly reduced the number of city students who still need shots for fall classes.

About 500 parents attended the sixth annual D.C. Covering Kids & Families “Back-to-School 2005” Health, Enrollment and Resource Fair at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest, said organizer Kim L.E. Bell.

D.C. United soccer star Freddy Adu and gospel duo Mary Mary made guest appearances at the fair. Children’s activities included pony rides and face-painting.

“The event capitalizes on the time when people are really focused on children,” Miss Bell said.

About 60 exhibits and six mobile health clinics provided information on such topics as diabetes and health insurance.

“In this country, there are more than 48 million people without health care coverage, many of whom are working people,” Miss Bell said. “If we raise the awareness about health insurance and health care, then in the end it was all worth it.”

About 2,700 D.C. public school students have not received the immunizations required to attend classes this year. That number is down from roughly 3,700 at this time last year, said Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health. She attributes the improvement to a massive outreach plan, which includes door-to-door campaigning to families.

“We have 95.27 percent of all eligible students immunized — one of the best, if not the best, in the nation,” she said. “But for us, having one child not immunized isn’t good enough.”

Few took advantage of the free immunizations yesterday, in part because many of the children who attended did not have parental permission, Miss Bell said.

However, parents who had their children immunized and took advantage of other resources at the fair said they were grateful.

“I haven’t seen something like this in this area in a long time,” said Keysha Norman, 24, of Southeast. She brought her son Markell Johnson, 5, to be vaccinated. “I got my blood pressure [read] and my sugar level checked.”

Tananchi Pringle, 25, of Southeast said the fair saved her and her son Tyeyea, 6, a long wait at the doctor’s office.

A quick check of some records showed that Markell and Tyeyea were up to date on their shots. However, 4-year-old Shakaliah Smalls was not so lucky.

“Don’t hurt her,” Tyeyea said as Shakaliah’s mother, Tamika Smalls, and her other daughter helped a nurse steady the crying child.

“I want my granny,” Shakaliah screamed as the nurse gave her the shots.

“She’s a big drama queen,” said Miss Smalls, 29.

Sure enough, Shakaliah, who starts kindergarten this fall, was smiling and playing with a coloring book moments after she received the shot.

“Getting the shots here was a lot cheaper than doing it on my own,” Miss Smalls said. “If it wasn’t for this fair, a lot of people wouldn’t have known about the risks of diabetes, high blood pressure, [sexually transmitted diseases] and things like that.”

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