Youths lacking shots can return

The Baltimore Sun

As many as 870 city schoolchildren are eligible to return to the classroom even though they have not received vaccinations required under a new state law, city school officials said yesterday.

As many as 5,000 Baltimore children were barred from attending school after the Jan. 22 deadline for the shots. City health officials found many of the children, and they were given the vaccinations for hepatitis B and chickenpox.

More than 1,000 children remained out of school last month, prompting city schools officials to ask the state to allow the children to be readmitted under a new emergency measure that applies to school districts with more than 500 unvaccinated children.

City schools officials said the unvaccinated children began returning to school March 21. The grace period for unvaccinated children is 45 days, and those who are not immunized by May 7 will be expelled, city officials said.

Health Department officials said the students who have not been vaccinated do not pose a public health risk.

Schools and health officials embarked on a door-to-door campaign in February to find children who had not been vaccinated. In many cases, officials said, the children had moved and could not be found.

Once unvaccinated children are found, school officials said, it is best to allow them to be readmitted to school, where they can receive the shots after permission is granted by parents or guardians.

Greg Reed, program manager for the state Health Department's Center for Immunization, said the state revised the law - issuing the emergency regulation allowing students to return to school - because of the difficulty that the districts with the most unvaccinated children, Prince George's County and Baltimore, were having in contacting them.

"We felt to reach this last group of hard-core children, many of whom are high risks, this is what we needed," Reed said.

The legislation requiring students from sixth through ninth grades to be immunized was enacted in 2005. The deadline for compliance was the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year, but it was extended until Jan. 1 and extended again until Jan. 22.

"One of our most effective strategies for vaccinating kids is doing it in school," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city health commissioner. "There is essentially no public health risk to the fact that we're letting them in. The high school kids don't have these vaccines. The important thing is that they all get vaccinated, and this is a way to make that happen."

City clinics

The Health Department provides free immunizations at its health clinics. No appointment is necessary.

Weekly health clinic schedule:

Tuesdays: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Eastern Health District, 620 N. Caroline St.

Wednesdays: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Druid Health District, 1515 W. North Ave.

Thursdays: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Eastern Health District, 620 N. Caroline St.

Other clinics will be scheduled from April 17-21.

Information: 410 396-4454

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