Immunized for school

August 27, 2007

Baltimore students and teachers head back to school today, undoubtedly amid equal doses of optimism and anxiety. But before students can sit comfortably at their desks, they must be properly immunized. City school and health officials have been doing their part to reach out to families and to make vaccines available - in a worthy effort to avoid the crisis that disrupted classes for thousands of students after new vaccine requirements went into effect during the last school year. It's now up to parents to ensure compliance - or else their children might be shut out of class.

A General Assembly mandate that more students be immunized for chickenpox and hepatitis B sent school systems around the state scrambling to make sure students got their shots as schools opened last year. Baltimore still had about 4,000 students who had not complied by the January deadline, which had to be extended. As schools open today, an estimated 3,500 students have yet to satisfy officials that they have been immunized, but many parents are likely to present proof of immunization or to leave consent forms when they bring their children to class.

Getting immunized should not be a problem. The city's Health Department is offering free vaccines at its clinics throughout the city and has been serving more than 100 children a day. Vaccines are also being given at health clinics that operate in many schools and by nurses based at each high school.

Health workers expect to administer a lot more shots between now and Sept. 20, when the state is requiring all students to be in compliance - or to be kept out of class. After three letters to parents during the summer, radio spots and auto-dial calls, officials rightly plan to be even more aggressive well before the grace period ends. More personal calls and visits to families will try to bring persistent vaccine stragglers, many of whom may be truants, into compliance.

The need to protect students from potentially serious diseases justifies enforcing vaccine requirements. But improving outreach efforts to families - particularly families that need help beyond getting children vaccinated - so that students don't miss class is also critical. How quickly and effectively officials and parents can get to 100 percent compliance during the opening weeks of school will be an important test, as even more vaccine requirements are likely in the future.

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