Time running out for students to get shots

More than 3,000 in city need chickenpox, hepatitis vaccines

August 24, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun reporter

With days to go before the start of school, thousands of students in Baltimore lack required immunizations, a number that, though far lower than at the corresponding time last year, has city school officials scrambling.

Nearly 3,500 students in prekindergarten through 10th grade lack required immunizations, said Tom DeWire, the city school system's SchoolStat director.

DeWire is optimistic that the stragglers - including more than 2,100 high school students who need to complete the hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccinations that the state requires for all students through 10th grade - will be reached.

"A majority just need their second or third shot in the series," DeWire said. "A lot of parents called to say they are sending updated records Monday."

Baltimore's immunization statistics have greatly improved since last fall, when almost 9,000 students were not up to date. About 83,000 students attended Baltimore schools last year.

Other school systems in the region said accurate data on the number of students lacking shots will not emerge until the school year begins next week, but they said they expect the number to be small.

About 25,000 students statewide lacked the necessary documentation when the requirements - passed in 2005 - took effect Jan. 1.

Shortly after that deadline, about 12,000 students were excluded from school.

With 3,000 students still ineligible to attend school by February, the General Assembly waived the new vaccination requirement temporarily in March and eventually extended the waiver for the duration of the school year.

When state regulations took effect requiring all students through ninth grade to have the hepatitis B and chickenpox shots, most of the noncompliant students were in the Baltimore and Prince George's County districts.

This year, the regulations expand to include 10th-graders and will apply to all students through 12th grade by the start of the 2009 school year.

Students who return to school with proof of an immunization appointment have 20 days to complete their vaccinations. Most of the region's districts said that on Sept. 17, they will start excluding students who lack immunizations.

"We're trying to do everything we can to make sure students are able to go to school and at the same time comply with the requirements," said Greg Reed, program manager for the state health department's Center for Immunization.

Reed said the state interprets the law as giving students until Sept. 20 to complete their vaccinations.

Area districts interpret the law differently and said they will enforce the earlier date.

As throngs of students returned to Prince George's County schools this week, four health clinics opened in high schools to address the immunization problem. About 1,000 of Prince George's 132,000 students, fewer than 1 percent, failed to comply with the vaccine requirements last school year, said John White, a spokesman for the school system.

"If you're out of compliance and you don't have an [immunization] appointment, you're not allowed to attend class," White said. "It's a tragedy, but it's totally preventable."

Officials in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties said students who are repeating 10th grade might pose the biggest problem because state regulations did not include that grade in the requirements last year.

Newcomers to each district also might may need vaccinations, said Gene Saderholm, deputy director of clinic and school health for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

"We don't believe that's going to be a large number," Saderholm said.

Few Anne Arundel students weren't in compliance in January, she said.

By June, no students in Carroll and Harford counties were barred from school because of immunization requirements, and the lone student who lacked the required vaccinations in Howard County later withdrew from school, officials there said.

Three dozen Baltimore County students were immunized at the Eastern Family Resource Center on Monday, the first of 11 free immunization clinics the county Health Department and school system are holding through Sept. 19, officials said.

Fewer than 250 students in Baltimore County had failed to meet immunization requirements by the end of January. By mid-February, most had completed the immunizations, except for those l needing the third and final shots in the hepatitis B series, said Kara Calder, the school system's spokeswoman.

"We've been following up with them regularly," Calder said.

In Baltimore, free immunizations will be available at all high schools through the end of September, DeWire said. Parents must fill out a form granting their children permission to receive the shots.

At a back-to-school fair at school system headquarters Wednesday, buses were available to shuttle students to and from the main immunization clinic at 1515 W. North Ave., DeWire said.

"There will be high numbers of vaccines given between now and Sept. 17," he said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Sara Neufeld, Arin Gencer, Ruma Kumar, John-John Williams IV and Madison Park contributed to this article.

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