Thousands of San Antonio students missed out on welcoming the new school year with their classmates because they didn't have the state-required vaccinations.
Pascual Gonzalez, Northside Independent School District Executive Director of Communications, said 1,849 students were sent home on the first day of school because they didn't have the state-required immunizations.
"The number may seem large but when you look at total enrollment of 97,000, it's really not. And, it's an improvement over last year," said Gonzalez. "Unfortunately because the parents did not make arrangements for the immunizations, the whole first day experience was lost for the students."
Officials at San Antonio Independent School District said approximately 400 students, or less than 1 percent of student enrollment, missed the first day of school because they didn't have the required vaccinations.
Procrastination seems to be the culprit. Gonzalez said the Friday before school began, school nurses called 3,500 homes to warn parents that their child would not be permitted to attend school Monday without proof of receiving the immunizations.
"Ultimately, it's up to the parents to make sure this is done," Gonzalez said.
Other school districts are dealing with the same challenges, said Vivian Flores, San Antonio Metro Health Immunization Program Manager.
"We don't get official reports, but we've seen lines," Flores said. "On the first day and second day of school at our immunization clinic, the phones were ringing off the hook and our clinics filled up very quickly. There were hundreds of parents lined up with their children."
Sometimes parents are caught off guard because the state requires new vaccinations, but there haven't been new requirements since the 2009-2010 school year and great measures have been taken to increase awareness of the state vaccination requirements.
"I'd like to applaud my staff and the local school nurses who work hard to increase awareness," Flores said.
"Unfortunately, this is a problem every year. We do a lot to try to get the word out. Every year, we promote our back-to-school vaccination events in the San Antonio Express-News, La Prensa, VIA buses, promotions on Radio Disney and local radio and television stations, school districts make calls, send letters and put up signs.
"It's frustrating to health and schools officials when parents don't get vaccinations for their children in time for school.
"Somehow some parents don't think it applies to their child," Flores said.
"We have asked some of the parents in line, and they said they didn't know. But some say they thought that if they waited until school started, the lines would be shorter. We give vaccines in Metro Health clinics 52 weeks of the year," Flores said. "We are here. So are doctors' offices. Parents need to be proactive for the children's health needs."
Immunizations are crucial to public health, Flores said.
"Parents need to think about immunizations as part of their children's comprehensive health. Immunizations are one of the greatest public health measures ever — the lives saved and the injury prevented... beneficial, cost-effective, she said. "They are so important, the state requirements. that says something to the importance of immunizations. The best place to get immunizations is in the children's medical home. They are part of their comprehensive health care. They should be up to date year round and not as an after thought to meet school requirements."
Flores said she expects for the lines for vaccinations to dissipate by the end of the first week of school. Then, San Antonio will be on track to rank at its typical slightly above state average for immunization rates. But the children still suffered, Flores said.
"These kids who are fired up, ready to go to school can't go. That's the true tragedy," she said. "The heartbreak is the kids who are missing out on the excitement of the first days of school — meeting their teachers, getting their new locker, finding the friends they missed all summer."
San Antonio Vaccination Rates
- Elementary Schools: 96 percent
- Middle Schools: 92 percent
- High Schools: 97 percent
Source: Texas Department of State Health Services for 2010-2011