By Gene Lambey,
Special to the AFRO

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office and D.C. Health and Wellness have been working together to keep scholars safe at the top of the new year. Bowser made sure to publicize that students would be required to submit vaccination records prior to returning for the 2023-24 academic year for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

Mayor Bowser urged families to get their children vaccinated for COVID-19, along with other standard immunizations, before the start of the school year.

“The start of any school year is an exciting time for teachers, students and families. As we make our back-to-school lists, make sure you have immunizations and well child visits on your list,” Mayor Bowser stated in a press release. “Every student deserves a strong start to the school year, and that starts on day one and it starts by taking care of your health. By making sure our children are up to date on their immunizations, we can all do our part to keep schools safe, healthy places of learning.”

Students were required to submit negative COVID-19 tests before the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. The COVID-19 rate has been steadily increasing over the summer of 2023, with a new variant known as “Pirola” now plaguing communities.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is still keeping track of the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to COVID-19 in the United States through the CDC data tracker. 

According to the recent number of cases from the COVID-19 data tracker, as of Sept 6, D.C. reported 231 cases of coronavirus. As August ends and the fall season begins, people should take caution as the weather gets colder.

Several doctors spoke on the immunization policy during a public meeting at Anacostia High School on Aug. 3, including Dr. Ana Caskin, pediatrician, associate director of community pediatrics at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital and M.D. for Anacostia Wellness Center. 

“We have been able to expand our services during the summers to kids across the city, regardless of what public school they’re enrolled in, so they can come into the school-based health center and get vaccines and get sports participation physicals,” said Caskin. “Our services are free of charge to the families. If they have private insurance, medicaid or they’re uninsured, they’re not charged for any of the services we provide.”

This year, DC Health debuted a new Electronic Universal Health Certificate (e-UHC) portal which allows medical providers the option to submit the required UHC health assessment forms directly to schools and DC Health. 

D.C. Code does allow for religious exemptions when it comes to immunizations for school students.

“We want all kids to be up-to-date and compliant with their vaccine requirements, but for families, this can be confusing. There are a lot of visits, a lot of vaccines, a lot of new vaccines crop up over the course of the kid’s life that they need to get into compliance with. One easy way for families to think about it is to think about the big vaccine visits which are for kids who are age 4 5 years old, age 11 and age 16,” said Caskin. “For each of those visits, there are new rounds of vaccines that they need to get. So if your kid is in that age range and you’re not sure if they’ve had their latest well child check or the latest round of vaccines, it’s worth calling your primary care provider, calling your school enrollment office, your school nurse, [and] your school-based health center because that’s the easy part. We can look that up for you real quick and let you know what vaccines your child might be due for. We also want kids to get their sports participation exams so the older kids can come in and get a physical exam and get ready for sports as well.”

Dr. Ayanna Bennett, pediatrician, former chief health equity officer for the Department of Health in San Francisco, California, director of the office of Health Equity and now acting director for DC Health shared her expertise as it related to the new requirement. 

“We want them to come back healthy and safe and part of that safety comes from those vaccinations. So those vaccinations are what help keep them safe in school. We’re fortunate that we have all of the vaccines that we do,” Bennett said at the meeting. “We’re in a time where we have the technology and the know-how to keep kids safe from a whole host of diseases that were a problem for the generations before us and are not for us but that is only if you get the vaccine. The potential life-saving vaccines that we want your children to get are best given by their primary care doctor. We do want you to go to see the doctor that knows your child and you already are connected to, but that’s not always possible for everyone. We want you to be sure that you have the information to get vaccinations for your child, whatever your circumstance is.”

There are residents in the D.C. area that are still skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine, hesitant on taking the shot. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, physician-scientist, immunologist, former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NAID) director, and former chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, was visited D.C. in early March 2023 per invitation from Mayor Bowser, urging residents in the southeast part of D.C. known as Anacostia, encouraging residents to get their vaccinations for COVID-19. 

At the time when Dr. Fauci went to the Anacostia neighborhoods with Mayor Bowser and her staff, the residents were both optimistic and cautious about Dr. Fauci and his evidence on the COVID-19 vaccinations. PBS recorded a short 7-minute documentary on Dr. Fauci’s visit to the Anacostia neighborhoods, showing both positive and negative reactions from residents.

One man from Anacostia in the short documentary shared his uncertainty about the COVID-19 vaccine to Fauci and Mayor Bowser.

“The people in America are not settled with the information that’s been given to us right now. So I’m not going to be lining up for taking a shot on a vaccination for something that wasn’t clear in the first place. You all create a shot in miraculous time. It takes years to create a vaccination.” 

In this exchange with this level of uncertainty, Fauci responded to claims like this in the documentary.

“You’re actually protecting your family by getting a vaccination. On the very rare chance that you do get the [virus], even if you’re vaccinated, you don’t even feel sick, it’s like you don’t even know you got infected. It is very good at protecting you,” Fauci said in the documentary.

There are people not just in D.C. but across the United States, that are still apprehensive about taking the COVID-19 vaccine, despite evidence showing that it protects people from COVID-19 over these past three years since the pandemic started. Finding ways to confront this issue are still being implemented, however a majority of people who oppose the vaccine believe it is a  political statement. This is about people’s health and safety, not political views.

As the students are returning back to school, it is important that not only students, but the parents comply with the vaccination policy for their children to attend the 2023-24 academic school year. Here are current school-based health centers that will allow students to get their immunization shots:

Anacostia Senior High School
1601 16th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20020
(202) 724-5529

Ballou Senior High School
3401 4th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20032
(202) 645-3843

Cardozo Learning Center
1200 Clifton Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 727-5148

Coolidge Senior High School & Ida B. Wells Middle School
6315 5th Street, NW
405 Sheridan St, NW
Washington, DC 20011
(202) 847-4077

Dunbar Senior High School
101 N Street, NW
Washington DC 20011
(202) 724-4086

Roosevelt Senior High School
4301 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
(202) 727-6333

Woodson Senior High School
540 55th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20019
(202) 724-2287