- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

D.C. health officials will focus on the city’s Hispanic population in the latest campaign to immunize children before school begins next month.

Dr. Gregg A. Pane, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said he is most concerned about Hispanics and other immigrants who recently moved to the District and who often do not comply with vaccination requirements. He said a few thousand “new kids” come to the District every year.

“We need to focus on them to make them aware of D.C. health requirements,” Dr. Pane said.

Dr. Pane said he wants a “big push” next month to have children get the required vaccinations before fall classes start Aug. 28.

He said the health department will work with Children’s National Medical Center, school nurse programs and the Medicaid Managed Care Program to spread awareness of vaccination requirements and deliver care to D.C. children.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government recommends that children by age 4 to 6 get vaccinations for: Hepatitis A and B; inactivated poliovirus (IPV); rotavirus; haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib); measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); pneumococcal conjugate (PCV); varicella (chickenpox); influenza; and diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP).

A tetanus diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap), which is a version of DTaP, is recommended for 11- to 12-year-olds.

The D.C. health department is specifically targeting the city’s Hispanic population because the group makes up a large portion of the population.

Latest school statistics show that as of October, 9.9 percent of D.C. public school students were Hispanic, 1.72 percent were Asian, 5.38 percent were white and 82.9 percent were black. There were 61,537 students enrolled in the D.C. Public School System in October, statistics show.

The health department yesterday did not respond to inquiries about whether immunizations would be given to illegal aliens.

Dr. Elmer Huerta, director of the Cancer Preventorium at the Washington Hospital Center’s Washington Cancer Institute, said Hispanics might not comply with immunization requirements because they have trouble accessing health services.

He said Hispanic children often forgo vaccinations because their parents don’t understand the U.S. health system, they don’t have health insurance and their parents usually are not educated and are “linguistically isolated.”

Dr. Huerta also said that few health services are sensitive to Hispanics because not all hospitals and clinics have signs written in Spanish and there are few Spanish-speaking doctors.

“Imagine the barrier [of] not being able to understand your doctor,” Dr. Huerta said.

Currently, the D.C. Department of Health is tackling the language barrier by providing information in several languages and by establishing several Spanish-speaking clinics throughout the District. The District also created the Immunization Task Force to help fix immunization delinquency problems in the city four years ago.

Rich Greenaway, chairman of the Immunization Coalition of Washington D.C., said that when the task force tries to target a specific group, such as the Hispanic population, it takes note of cultural traditions.

“We take a family approach with Latinos because they’re very family oriented,” said Mr. Greenaway, who also is a member of the Immunization Task Force.

He said Hispanics will often come with their families to clinics to get vaccinations, and that the task force considers such traditions while planning immunization campaigns.

Dr. Pane said the District has the highest immunization rate for children in the country.

Last year, the District had a rate of 96 percent for immunized public school children, health officials said.

The latest rate is a “big jump” from several years ago when the District had a child immunization rate of about 45 percent, health officials said.

Since then, city health officials made a “huge effort to double the number,” Dr. Pane said.

The D.C. Department of Health operates five clinics that offer immunizations for uninsured residents. However, the vaccinations only are available for a limited number of people.

Officials said that the District’s statistics are among the best in the nation, and that the city will continue to improve by focusing on its immigrant population.

“When you get to the point when your percentages [of immunized students] are high, you have to focus on specific groups such as immigrants,” Mr. Greenaway said.

Children’s National Medical Center recently began a mobile unit known as Dr. Bear’s Express that provides immunizations to children under 4. The unit allows the hospital’s staff to travel to targeted areas of the District, including schools, and vaccinate children, said Barbara Scott, director of the hospital’s Children’s School Services.

Mrs. Scott said the purpose of the program is to get preschool children up to date on their vaccinations before they enter kindergarten. “It takes a lot of preplanning,” she said.

Schools in Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs are not focusing on immigrants in their immunization campaigns, officials said. They said immigrant immunization is not an issue of concern.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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