Despite a widespread measles outbreak this spring, few school children in Anne Arundel County and other Maryland jurisdictions signed up for free booster shots, prompting health officials to consider requiring them in the future.
Only about 25 percent of the eligible sixth- and seventh-graders participated in the state program to be immunized against measles a second time.
In Anne Arundel County, even fewer students received the free shots until a rash of measles cases was reported in early April. The outbreak, which was linked to a wrestling tournament at Meade High School, spurred more to sign up and increased the participation rate to 23percent.
The program ends this week when the last shots are givenat Southern Middle School. With only one school outstanding, the county Health Department compiled statistics showing that 1,200 of the 5,300 targeted seventh-graders took part in the program.
"It definitely was less than we expected," said department spokeswoman Evelyn Stein.
Statewide, the participation rate ranged from less than 10 percent to more than 35 percent, with an overall average of 25 percent, said Edward M. Hirshorn, assistant chief of immunology at the stateDepartment of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"We don't have a very high participation when a program is voluntary," he said. "It's clear that we would have to make it mandatory to get more (students) involved."
To prevent an onslaught of measles cases every spring, state health officials hope to pass regulations mandating that all school children be immunized a second time. If money is available, the Health Department could begin requiring booster shots in 1992.
"Whether it will happen, I don't know," Hirshorn said. "But eventually, we would like to see all school-age children receive two doses."
Maryland received a federal grant this year to give out measles-mumps-rubella vaccines to children in their first year of secondary schools.While school officials were pushing the booster-shot program, the state suffered the largest measles outbreak in more than a decade.
The number of measles cases increased nearly threefold this spring, spurred largely by the outbreak linked to the wrestling tournament.
A Howard County high school wrestler came down with the highly contagious disease several days after participating in the Meade tournamentFeb. 22 and 23. In the following weeks, 15 cases were reported in Anne Arundel County and another 21 cases were confirmed in Howard County. The rash of measles continued to spread during April, reaching more than 100, in contrast to about 30 during the same time period in 1990.
The measles outbreak is nearly over now, Hirshorn said. No newcases have been reported in the last weeks and "the combination of vaccinations and warmer weather should knock it out for this year," Hirshorn said.