In 2005, state legislators added two additional immunizations to the list that Baltimore schools must ensure all children through the ninth grade have before attending school. The first deadline for Baltimore schools’ children for the new vaccinations was the start of school for school year 2006-2007. Due to lack of compliance across the state, that deadline was extended to January 1, 2007. Students with scheduled appointments for the vaccinations were permitted to attend classes for two additional weeks.
We are now in February and 3,200 Baltimore schools’ students remain out of school, because they have not received the hepatitis B and chickenpox immunizations. There still are a total of 12,000 excluded students across the state, who are not in compliance with the new requirements.
Many state officials, as well as Baltimore schools’ administrators, cannot believe that such a problem exists. Though it was quite an undertaking, they did everything possible to ensure compliance. Working with state health officials, the Baltimore schools mailed letters to the students’ homes, telephoned the parents, assisted in scheduling vaccination appointments, held conferences with the students, and set up vaccination clinics with late hours where possible.
Greg Reed, program manager for the state health department’s Center for Immunization, stated that the $1.3 million funding for the project was not received until September. That left very little time to set up free and reduced cost clinics across the state. Many schools, including some within the Baltimore schools, were left with no clinic assistance or lack of nursing staff for low-income families and parents who work long hours.
Though many blame procrastinating parents, there is no common thread as to why the children were not immunized. The Baltimore schools will have to wait to discover the experiences of each of its schools, until that information can be gathered and analyzed. Then, they will be able to evaluate the compliance methods employed by each of the Baltimore schools.
Responsibility must be shared by all — Baltimore schools’ administrators who did not stay on top of the problem with planned interventions to ensure compliance; the state health department that should have had plans, people and equipment ready to go as funding was received; legislators who did not ensure funding was there early enough to do some good; and parents who should want their children protected with immunizations important enough to garner the attention of the state legislature.
Additionally, all concerned in the Baltimore schools’ district should realize that blaming the parents for “procrastinating” breaks down the lines of communication. It is critical to work together. For many of the Baltimore schools’ parents, especially within the urban areas, it is difficult to get their children to the doctor for something other than an emergency. They work extremely long hours. Many work two or more jobs just to make ends “almost” meet. There is little, if any, extra money. When there is, it generally goes for such luxuries as clothing for their children.