Vaccine rate for students in city rises Better recordkeeping, immunization efforts boost figure to 99%

Up 37 points since '95

Some youths without shots will be barred from area schools

August 17, 1996|By Diana Sugg and Kaana Smith | Diana Sugg and Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

After thousands of city children were barred from school last year because they lacked immunizations, the situation is much better this year: 99 percent of students are up to date on their shots, health officials say.

Improved recordkeeping and a major effort to vaccinate children have boosted the percentage from 62 percent last summer. But with the first day of school about two weeks away, officials are pushing parents, because they estimate 7,400 children will be out of compliance once school starts.

That group -- some kindergartners, sixth- and 10th-graders -- is required to have a second measles-mumps-rubella shot by the first day of school, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, city health commissioner. Notices have been sent to their parents. Children who aren't immunized will be kept out of city schools, as they were last year.

The issue arose in March 1995, when school officials determined that 40,000 city students weren't immunized, as required by state law. About half of those students actually had their shots, but the schools lacked records of the immunizations. The other half had not been immunized. A joint effort by the Baltimore City Health Department and school officials provided free immunization clinics, while other officials worked with community groups to get the word out.

Ultimately roughly 8,500 students were forced to stay home until they got all their shots.

"We will pursue the same avenues this year," Beilenson said. "We will exclude kids immediately from school unless they have an appointment with a physician."

All told, this year, 8,512 of the system's 115,000 children still need immunizations -- the students who need the second MMR shot, and the roughly 1,100 who are still out of compliance from last year and make up the 1 percent of city students without immunizations.

If children are kept home for three weeks, and parents make no attempt to get them immunized, the parents will be referred to the state's attorney's office for prosecution under the truancy law, Beilenson said. Last year, a lack of school records prevented law enforcement officials from taking that step.

Since then, the city school system's programmers have put together a temporary system so the computer can sort the names of all registered children to determine who is out of compliance. Those names are forwarded to principals, who notify the parents, said Howard Steptoe, a systems manager for Baltimore City schools.

Steptoe's group also has meshed the registry system with the immunization system, so whenever a child is signed up for school, immunization information must be given before he or she can be enrolled. That method will be operating next week.

Improvements in recordkeeping and the concentrated effort at getting children up-to-date in their shots have boosted the percentage of fully immunized children significantly. At Gardenville Elementary, for example, only four children out of 383 are out of compliance, records show. At Northwood Elementary, only four out of 701 children don't have all their shots. "This is a huge improvement," Beilenson said. "We get regular updates now. They do a much, much better job of keeping track of who needs it and where everybody is. The principals really did an excellent job."

New medical statistics from Baltimore show that immunizations work.

In 1991, during the nationwide epidemic of measles and mumps, Baltimore reported 105 cases of measles and more than 600 cases of mumps, Beilenson said. Last year, there were no measles cases and seven cases of mumps.

Around the state, immunization rates are mostly in the 98 percent to 99 percent range, said Barry Trostel, assistant chief at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Center for Immunization.

Trostel advises parents not to wait until the last minute to have children immunized and to remember to get immunization forms from school. He said most children should have had all their shots by the time they are 15 to 18 months old. Only about 80 percent of 2-year-olds in the city are fully immunized, Beilenson said.

But parents and health officials also must adjust to changing requirements. The second measles-mumps-rubella shot was phased in over the past several years. And soon, Beilenson said, children will be required to get the chicken pox vaccine.

Getting immunized

* A "School Readiness Fair," sponsored in part by the Baltimore City Health Department and Baltimore City public schools, is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at Mondawmin Mall. Free immunizations, discount cards for some Mondawmin Mall merchants and information on mentor programs and after-school activities will be available.

* Free immunization clinics will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 4 and 5, the first two days of school, at city school system headquarters, 200 E. North Ave.

Pub Date: 8/17/96

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