DC schools ‘have every intention of enforcing’ student vaccination requirements

Mom Sarai Salmeron, of DC, explains why her three children are fully vaccinated

Citing low vaccine compliancy rates, D.C. is urging parents to get their school-age children all the shots required for returning to school next month.

According to DC Health, a 95% compliance rate of routine pediatric immunizations is required to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as measles. Paul Kihn, the District’s deputy mayor for education, said he is worried the District is falling short on that target.

Kihn was joined by other city officials at an event on the Fort Totten campus of Mary’s Center to emphasize the need for routine childhood vaccinations before the new school year.

“As we look at the current rates of routine pediatric immunizations, we are seeing that they are too low. Those numbers are not acceptable as we look to trying to ensure that all of our children, our communities, or school communities are safe from preventable illness,” Kihn said.

“And that’s what you’re hearing from us today, what you will continue to hear from us over the course of the summer, is that we have every intention of enforcing this,” he said.

Mary’s Center staff and city officials gathered to emphasize the need for routine childhood vaccinations before the new school year. (WTOP/Kristi King)

So, how many kids are behind on their shots?

As of July, approximately 27% of D.C. children were not up to date on routine pediatric immunizations, according to data from the city. That’s about 20% of elementary schoolers, one third of middle schoolers and one half of high schoolers.

This compliancy rate of 73% is well below the national average of roughly 93%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are statistics that have led to the city’s “No Shot, No School” policy.

The Mary’s Center community health facility in Fort Totten is providing COVID-19 related services in its parking lot. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Parents have 20 school days after classes begin Aug. 29 to provide documentation that their children have received their required childhood immunizations.

In the District, the COVID-19 vaccine is required for students 12 to 15 years old to attend public school. Unless granted an exemption, students must have received their COVID-19 vaccine series, or have started receiving the series by Sept. 16.

Also at the event, Vice President of Clinical Education and Medical Director Dr. Maria Marque, a pediatrician herself, made the case for student vaccinations.

“Vaccines save lives, vaccines are safe, and they’re very effective to prevent diseases that are very serious and can be very severe,” Marque said. “I guarantee you that children who are vaccinated thrive at school, thrive in their life, and it’s really because they were vaccinated and got these amazing tools for prevention.”

Health and education officials in D.C. have emphasized that the city has “dramatically expanded access” to vaccines, making it easy for families to get the required immunizations.

At present, there are around 57 locations in the city that offer pediatric vaccines, as well as mobile and school based clinics that are in the works.

Full details on D.C.’s immunization options can be found on the D.C. Health website.

As the new school year draws near, letters are going out to families whose children are identified as missing immunizations. Robocalls to those homes are also planned for August.

In some cases, families that have already vaccinated their children may still receive calls or letters from the city. It may be the case that their paperwork for the vaccinations is either missing, or incomplete.

If that is the case, health care providers can provide the required documentation to present to their child’s school officials ahead of the new year or, at the very least, on day one.

Religious exemptions and HPV opt outs from the previous school year expired on July 1. For the upcoming school year, new paperwork will need to be submitted.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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