City looks for 1,847 students

Agencies want pupils barred for lack of immunizations back in school

February 13, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Outreach teams began knocking on doors in Baltimore neighborhoods yesterday in search of the 1,847 students who've been barred from school since Jan. 22 because they have failed to get immunizations required by a new state law.

Baltimore has the bulk of the state's approximately 3,000 students who are ineligible to attend school because they lack the required vaccinations against hepatitis B and chicken pox, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Prince George's County ranks second in the state, with roughly 80.

Workers from the city's housing department, the Health Department and the city school system set out yesterday to visit the homes of middle and high school students who've failed to get immunized. The addresses of the students were gleaned from school system records. The workers carried consent forms, which, if signed by parents or guardians, would allow the students to return to schools where they could receive the vaccinations in the school nurse's office.

Dr. Laura Herrera, chief medical officer for the city Health Department, said the target group yesterday was students who had high attendance before they were barred from school. School officials say it is important for middle and high school students to get back into the classroom because the Maryland State Assessments and High School Assessments tests are scheduled for next month.

Dr. Kima Taylor, Baltimore's assistant health commissioner, said the department has information on every out-of-compliance student, though some addresses might be outdated and some kids could be old enough to legally drop out of school.

Taylor said workers, when meeting with parents, are instructed to inquire about the circumstances that kept the students from being inoculated.

"Part of the reason we're knocking on doors is to see if there are other issues, other reasons these children are not in school," Taylor said. "Maybe there are some referrals we need to make for health care, for the food bank. We'll be able to assess what other barriers are making it hard for the children to return to school."

The legislation requiring students through the ninth grade to receive immunizations was enacted in 2005. The deadline for compliance was the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year but was extended until Jan. 1.

About three weeks ago, on the first day the new law was enforced, more than 5,000 city students who failed to get the shots were barred from school. Efforts to reach many of the children and their parents by phone or mail have been fruitless, city officials said.

Asked if the immunizations drive was worth having so many students miss class time, Greg Reed, a state health official said, "I think so."

"What we've done is make sure 280,000 children [statewide] are protected against chicken pox. We made sure they're protected against hepatitis B. Many of these kids are at that age where they start engaging in risky behavior," said Reed, who is the program manager for the state health department's Center for Immunization.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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