900 city students still need shots

The Baltimore Sun

About 900 city students remained barred from school yesterday for failing to get state-required immunizations - a number that officials say they expect will continue to dwindle in the coming weeks.

The Baltimore school system barred 2,500 students Sept. 14, the district's deadline for students through 10th grade to have hepatitis B and chickenpox shots.

Since then, city school and Health Department nurses have vaccinated nearly 1,600, most of them high school students. All high schools have health centers staffed with nurses and Health Department representatives ready to administer the shots.

"I anticipate by the end of the day [tomorrow], we will be down to about 600 students," said Tom DeWire, the city system's SchoolStat director.

The legislation requiring students to be immunized was enacted in 2005. The deadline for compliance was the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year but was extended numerous times.

The number of city students who have not complied with the immunization requirement has decreased significantly since a year ago, when nearly 14,000 needed shots. About 83,000 students attended city schools last year.

DeWire said students who are out of compliance have been receiving automated phone calls, letters and home visits from school staff members and social workers. DeWire said 138 of those students have failed to go to class at all this year and might have entered another school district, a private school or dropped out.

As for the other students, school system officials point to truancy as one reason the number remains in the hundreds.

"In some cases, there are underlying attendance concerns," DeWire said. "That's driving some of it. Then there are some parents who don't want [students] getting shots at school and want them to see a private physician. We're having school nurses call the parents and say they're fully certified. We feel like we're doing everything we can."

In surrounding districts, no students in Carroll and Harford counties have been barred this school year for failing to meet immunization requirements. In Anne Arundel County, 148 students needed vaccinations and were barred from class as of Friday.

All Howard County students have received the required vaccines, according to Donna Heller, the coordinator of health services for that school system.

Kara Calder, spokeswoman for Baltimore County schools, said that as of this week, a handful of children had not shown proof of vaccination. She said school officials believe these are students who likely don't plan to return to the county's schools.

Statewide, Prince George's County remains the district with the highest number of noncompliant students, with 2,643 as of yesterday, according to Tanzi West, a spokeswoman for that school system.

In Baltimore, free vaccines are available through the end of the month. The Health Department will open a one-day clinic from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at 1515 W. North Ave., DeWire said.brent.jones@baltsun.com

Sun reporters John-John Williams IV, Gina Davis and Ruma Kumar contributed to this article.

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