Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176416
Story Retrieval Date: 3/7/2014 9:12:04 PM CST
Nearly one out of six students -- 16 percent -- in Chicago Public Schools did not meet vaccine or physical examination requirements as of Oct. 14, according to internal CPS documents obtained by Medill News Service.
Four schools were under 50 percent compliant – Crane Achievement Academy, Eric Solorio Academy, Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative and TEAM Englewood Community high schools. However, just over 180 schools had compliance of more than 90 percent. Gurdon S. Hubbard High School had the highest compliance at 99.52 percent.
Data from the Illinois State Board of Education indicates a slightly better compliance rate for Chicago than the CPS documents, with only 11 percent of students not current on their vaccinations and health examinations as of Oct. 15. The state board reported an average statewide compliance for public schools of 96 percent in 2009-2010.
Parents must provide proof to their school that their child has received immunizations against eight diseases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The deadline for vaccine compliance is Oct. 15, according to Dr. Rachel Caskey, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at University of Illinois at Chicago.
“There is no one person to blame,” said Caskey, whose research focuses on adolescent vaccination. “It’s definitely not just parents and schools. Part of the problem is we are dealing with two large and less than efficient systems — Chicago Public Schools and the healthcare system.”
The school’s principal decides the consequences for those students who don’t meet the Oct. 15 deadline, Caskey said.
“Some will mandate expulsion, some will do warnings,” she said. “We don’t want the kids to suffer, because they are truly innocent in this process.”
There are a number of reasons parents choose not to vaccinate their children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 states have religious exemption laws, while nearly 20 have philosophical exemptions.
School immunization assessment surveys for Illinois by the centers show that less than 1 percent of kindergarteners were exempt for medical reasons, while just over 3 percent of them were exempt for religious reasons.
In Chicago kids may not be receiving vaccinations for other reasons. For example, Caskey said immigrant parents may be fearful.
“Some of it is a lack of understanding of the system,” Caskey said. “Their kids can still get care and are protected from deportation — but they don’t know that.”
Caskey also said information is not being transmitted effectively.
“We have found tremendous errors in some of the records the schools have,” she said. “Parents are updating their schools and not giving their schools all of the records, or they’ve given this record five times and the school loses it.”
According to the documents, Chicago Public Schools made more than 70,000 automated calls to noncompliant students to warn them of the deadlines and potential exclusion. One school was organizing a field trip for students to obtain their medical evaluations and vaccinations, also according to the documents.
“We are very aggressive when it comes to posting information on our website and having health fairs to reinforce the message that these vaccinations are required,” said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools. “We try to provide as many resources as possible, but we do have to rely on the family unit to be sure that vaccines are updated.”
While there is a consensus that educating parents and children about vaccinations is necessary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages parents to take advantage of available resources.
“We’ve been so successful in decreasing the number of cases in vaccine-preventable diseases, that parents don’t see the disease so much,” said Dr. Abigail Shefer, associate director of the Science and Immunization Center at the centers.
“I think we can tend to get complacent that we have something that can protect our children, and if you don’t use them you can’t be protected.”