Apr 15, 2002
Washington, D.C. school officials discovered last year that as many as 41,000 of their 68,485 students lacked complete vaccination records. Some children may be immunized, but the records aren’t there to show it. Did officials begin a crash program to update their records and set up public health facilities so all children could be treated?
No, they simply started to order children out of school because of lack of immunizations – and then declared them to be truants. Their parents and guardians were warned of potential fines and jail time.
Of course, all children need to be immunized, not just to protect the individual children, but all those around them. But kicking them out of school solves nothing, it just punishes the child. They can still catch diseases and spread them. Nor does punishing the parents with threats of fines and jail time prevent measles.
What is lacking – not only in D.C. but in all poor neighborhoods – is access to health care. What is lacking are public health facilities in every neighborhood with hours convenient to the parents, good record keeping, shots available in elementary schools, to name just a few of the many things needed. It would also help to have facilities which do not chase off the poorest parents, but rather invite them in.
Poor people often get the worst medical care and they have good reasons to mistrust the medical establishment. So educating parents on the importance of immunization is necessary. Safeguards, like providing shots at school, are needed when parents are irresponsible.
When school officials punish children and threaten parents, they are simply covering up for the lack of public health care. They would do better to begin making that health care available.