Reel in vaccine resisters

September 14, 2007

As another deadline looms next week for students to show proof of immunization or be kept out of class, Baltimore school principals and staff should be making every effort to ensure that parents and students comply with the vaccine requirements. And parents need to stop being a roadblock to their children's education.

Required immunizations against chickenpox and hepatitis B reflect growing concerns that these diseases can have serious consequences for children well beyond kindergarten. However, no one gains if students are kept out of school for long periods of time.

In Baltimore, where more than 16,000 students had not been immunized by this time last year, officials say fewer than 2,500 this year still need their shots. That's good news in its way, but it's still a sizable number despite many letters, personal and automated calls and up to 300 home visits made so far.

School administrators have done a better job of tracking stragglers this year and plan to send each one home today with a personalized note detailing what shots are needed and where they can be obtained. How outrageous that they must spend their time prodding parents to be responsible.

But though health department workers have given thousands of shots and housing department workers have made dozens of home visits, school officials are in the best position to follow up with students and their families. Special efforts must be made to find an estimated 250 students who need shots but have not yet shown up for school. They may have left the city school system or they may be chronic truants, but their status needs to be determined and they need to be pulled back into a school.

Principals and teachers must also keep careful watch over about 1,400 of the stragglers who are in neighborhood and citywide high schools. They are being sent home today with parental consent forms so that they can come back next week and be given their shots by the school nurse assigned to each high school. Extra nagging by school administrators is justified because ninth-and 10th-graders kept out of school for lack of compliance could become dropouts.

For the sake of overall public health and safety, officials must aggressively pursue vaccine resisters and no-shows. Students need to be immunized - and in class.

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