Enrolling a child in a District public, public charter, private, parochial or independent school requires up-to-date vaccinations no later than 20 days into the new school year.
With the current school year soon coming to a close, the District government has launched a campaign to help families bridge that gap well before the fall.
A cadre of D.C. government officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant and Dr. Thomas Farley of DC Health’s Community Health Administration, recently announced the expansion of efforts to fully vaccinate all District youth during an event at Children’s National Health System at THEARC in Southeast.
For families unable to receive vaccinations from primary care physicians, District officials have suggested pediatric clinics throughout the city. DC Health has also expanded access to school-based health centers while setting up District mobile medical units at recreation centers and COVID centers. Schools can also request on-site vaccination clinics with healthcare providers.
“We have rightfully been focused on protecting our families and communities [against COVID]. It’s critically important to not forget the other infectious diseases that can affect our children,” State Superintendent Grant said on Monday, June 6.
“Vaccinations are free. Your health certificate should be a tool your family should have to show you’re up to date. It’s one of our top priorities to make sure our next school year starts strong,” Grant said.
This campaign comes as District residents continue to test positive for COVID-19 daily and DC Health recorded one case of monkeypox in a person who recently visited Europe. District officials said they’re shooting for a citywide goal of 100% student vaccination by the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.
Dr. Farley said 80% of pre-kindergarten students currently meet vaccination requirements.
Ferebee revealed an outreach strategy consisting of phone calls, home visits and leveraging teacher/staff relationships with family members. DC Public Charter School Board Director Michelle J. Walker-Davis, who also attended Monday’s event, said the District’s charter schools are taking similar steps.
Bowser considers these measures necessary in preventing what she has described as the unnecessary spread of measles and other preventable diseases.
In recent years, vaccinations have been a somewhat polarizing topic among District officials and residents. Last year, the D.C. Council approved legislation mandating FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccinations for school-aged children in the District.
Amid a measles outbreak that rocked portions of the D.C. metropolitan area and throughout the U.S., in 2019, legislators coalesced around legislation allowing children to be vaccinated without parental consent, much to the chagrin of some local residents.
For Yolanda Powers, keeping her children up to date on their vaccinations has rarely been an issue because of trips to Children’s National Anacostia in Southeast both before and throughout the pandemic. Despite neighbors’ apprehensions about MMR and varicella vaccinations, among others, Powers has maintained visits to the doctor’s office for her three school-aged children. During their most recent visit this year, Powers’ daughter received the HPV vaccine.
While she stopped short of vaccinating her children against COVID-19, Powers said she has no qualms about keeping her children’s health certificate updated and ensuring they can enter school seamlessly with vaccinations which she took as a child.
“A lot of people are reluctant because they fear their children getting autism but that’s not how you get it,” Powers said. “They wonder why their children stay sick with the common cold and anything from measles and chickenpox. These vaccines have been around for a long time. That’s the only reason why I’m okay with my children getting them.”