All public school children in the District will soon be required to show proof of immunization against certain communicable diseases in order to attend school.
A recent D.C. Board of Education ruling made immunizations against measles, mumps, rubella(German measles), polio, tetanus and diphtheria mandatory for all public school children.
In the past, only those children entering D.C. Public Schools for the first time were required to be immunized, under a regulation passed by the City Council in 1972. That regulation did not require shots for rubella and mumps.
The new rules will not bar children without adequate immunization records from entering school this fall, however, "All kids will be able to enter school," said Eleanor McQuaide, secretary to the Superintendent of Schools. "We're not keeping anybody out of school," under the news regulation, she said. The superintendent's office is still working out the final details for carrying out the regulations, McQuaide said.
"Under the old system there wasn't any way to see that (a child's series of immunizations) was up to date," said at-large D.C. Board of Education member Elizabeth Kane. Since some immunizations require more than one shot, there was no way to be sure a child had completed the required series of shots.
Now, pre-school through 12th grade students in public schools are to have their immunization records checked yearly to make sure they have completed the series of mandatory shots. The board's action was based on recommendations by health officials "who have been very concerned about the reappearance of polio, measles, and some of these other diseases that we thought were wiped out" Kane said.
Public school principals will be responsible for writing to the parents of children whose immunization records are not up to date, according to George Margolies, legal counsel to the Superintendent of Schools.
"It's the parents' responsibility to get the shots," Kane said. If it is discovered that a child's immunization record is not up to date, parparents have 10 days from that time to start or resume getting the necessary shots for their children, Kane said.
"We're going to have to be somewhat realistic about implementing (the new regulation)" said David A. Splitt, general counsel for the Board of Education. Children whose immunizations are not complete will be allowed to attend school as long as they are "actively involved" in getting their shots, he said. "If they don't do any of that, they can't go to school in the District of Columbia," Splitt said. "The idea is to protect the other students from someone who could be carrying a disease," he said. "We're not trying to make it oppressive."
Splitt noted the two exceptions to the regulation - those whose religious belefs prohibit immunizations, and those who have a doctor's written certification that immunizations would not be advisable.
But school age children are not the only ones who should be immunized, health officials say. "The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta warns that postponing immunizations until children begin school leaves them susceptible to disease at a time when they are most vulnerable.
As soon as a child is born in the District, the health department includes the family in its newborn survillance system. Parents are sent a series of three letters urging them to begin having their child immunized, according to Dr. Martin E. Levy, chief of the Communicable Disease Control Branch, Community Health and Hospitals Administration of the D.C. Department of Human Resources.
AN average of 78 per cent of the families respond to the letters, Dr. Levy said, and of those, 83 per cent have usually begun to have their children immunized.
Levy said the Communicable Disease Control Branch is also currently working on a study to determine how many two-year-olds in the District have begun receiving immunizations.
The health department recently completed a preliminary sample survey of kindergarten, first and second grade students in 23 public and eight parochial schools. It shows that children here are most often immunized against measles (95 per cent), followed by diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus (93 per cent), polio (86 per cent), and Rubella (76 per cent). District health officials do not yet know how many of those children are immunized against mumps. In order to be considered immunized, the children had to have at least one booster shot in addition to their basic immunization series.
District children have been getting mumps more than any other preventable childhood disease in recent years. Five cases have been reported so far this year. Last year, there were 108 cases of mumps were reported to the health department.
There have been two reported and confirmed cases of measles here this year so far, and another 17 cases which have not yet been confirmed, compared with 11 cases for all of 1976 and case for 1975.
No cases of Rubella have been reported so far this year. But last year, 47 cases were reported. Thirty-four of those cases were reported at Georgetown University. They all involved people over 20 years old. In 1975, there were no reported cases. There were also no reported cases of diptheria, pertussis or tetanus here in the past three years, according to the health department.
Paralytic polio has not struck the District since in 1960's. In 1961, three cases were reported, and in 1962 there were two cases. The last reported case came in 1968.
This fall, the Communicable Disease Control Branch of the Department of Human Resources will begin giving free immunizations in elementary schools with parental permission, Dr. Levy said.